NORTH SEA IN SIGHT
Simon Jenkins is bringing his first historic barge from the Mediterranean to Belgium, and now onto the Channel coast. Last time Simon and Amanda faced a stoppage but found time explore Glorious Ghent. Now they are heading for their winter mooring, close to the North Sea coast. This is his story, in his own words.
Off we went back out of the delightful city of Ghent. We picked our way along a rather nice little canal and passed some posh places until we reached the Ringvaart-haha. It was Saturday again which meant it would be quiet with commercials. Great as we could crack on unhindered.
|Another early start|
Only one lock today, however, we had traded the locks for lift bridges but this shouldn't slow us down much. We were still heading North and the next major place on route was the stunning city of Brugge.
The navigable canal skirts around the outside of Brugge and in order to see its inner delights you need to moor up and wander in. However we needed to crack on as we had a meeting to attend with the Belgium authorities.
The one lock we had to do was an interesting one as it was oval shaped with three sets of lock gates, so there was another canal that we could have taken. Not sure where it went as we never investigated it. It might have just been to a loading basin.
This lock had an an actual lock keeper, grumpy bugger he was too. We shared the lock with small cruiser and the lock keeper kept a very close eye on the proceedings, as tying up wasn't that straightforward and it was a big lock.
The bridges were interesting - the traffic stopped on the roads and then these massive structures lifted gracefully in front of us, a bit like a military salute. In one place two bridges lifted at once, and we glided underneath whilst onlookers took photos – or perhaps they whispered ‘hurry up’ under their breaths.
|These massive structures lifted gracefully in front of us|
We soon cleared Brugge and back out in to the rural area which, by now, was very flat indeed. As we moved even further North it opened up to almost flat lands like Norfolk. We passed some smashing mooring places next to proper Belgium bars and restaurants but, alas, not enough time to sample them.
So we ended up stopping at the junction with the Kanaal Nieuwpoort-Duinkerke/Neiuwpoort-Plassendale (thats a mouthful). If we had carried on we would have dropped in to the sea at Ostend just a few kilometres further on, but the next canal was to take us to our winter mooring.
|We ended up stopping at the junction with the Kanaal Nieuwpoort-Duinkerke/Neiuwpoort-Plassendale|
The final canal of our journey changed from a wide deep canal capable of taking 2,000 plus ton barges down to a canal that can cope with 38 m x 5 m, 350 ton barges, so it was more akin to the UK canals again-in as much as it was narrower and shallower and we were now heading west towards Calais and Dunkirk, following the coast.
The canal also followed a main road and it was good to see cars whizzing past so close to the boat chugging along at 8kmh. Bridges were spread out and there seemed plenty of them. No manual operation here either and, as we approached each bridge a call on the VHF radio to the central control soon had the traffic stopped and the bridge lifting for us.
|A call on the VHF radio to the central control soon had the traffic stopped and the bridge lifting for us|
It all seemed very odd, with these bridges being operated by remote control from a central office and not a canal worker to be seen.
We had three locks to negotiate along this stretch of canal, and they were the most amazing structures of the entire journey (apart from the boat lift). But first we needed to get the motorbike off the boat as there was nowhere to do so once we reached our mooring.
So we pulled up at another junction where there was another rather large lock. We didn't quite understand why it was so big as the rest of that canal was small, but we tied up, got the ramps out and rode the bike off the back deck of the boat. We locked it up and then back along the main line of the canal towards the Nieuwpoort lock system.
This is well worth going to have a look at. It is a junction of seven waterways and it’s also known as Ganzepoot (goose foot in Dutch). The main river, is tidal and called the Yser. It used to have several locks but only two are used.
These two we had to do, and they can only be done two hours either side of high tide, so a little bit of planning was needed to ensure we arrived at the right time. These locks are operated by a mobile team of lock keepers and they also have to operate lift bridges at the ends of each lock.
We locked through the first lock and into the tidal basin at pretty much slack water. There wasn't even a difference in the height, but this can be either way and the lock gates have two sets of gates at each end - which ones are needed depends on the height of the tide - out into the basin and sharp left and towards the next lock.
We pretty much went straight in and then locked through and on to the last leg of the journey – but not immediately. It was Sunday and the next lock at Veurne and the railway lift bridge was not manned on a Sunday - so we had an enforced stay in Nieuwpoort for the rest of the day and night. That was OK as the bike was only a 15min walk away so we could at least do some shopping and get off the boat for a bit!
|The railway lift bridge|
The final day arrived, Monday morning and the last leg of this monumental journey. Off we went and, after what seemed like a short period of time maybe an hour or so we reached Veurne and the railway lift bridge. Aa quick call to the lock keeper and in no time at all the antiquated railway lift bridge (like the bridge at the Black country museum groaned up in to the air, just after that is the main town lift bridge. Traffic stopped as we glided through there - very tight indeed as we went through - and then a sharp right and into the lock which was ready for us, and not a soul to be seen operating any of it.
Locked through and our mooring was in a basin just on our right hand side. We exited the lock spun the boat around, reversed into the short basin and moored just in front of another barge tied up there.
|Moored at our destination - within smelling distance of the North Sea|
|Ambiorix resplendent in her new paintwork and new covers|
We had made it-a journey of some 1,000 miles and about 250 locks on a 107 year old 130 ton 100 foot long barge in a very short time scale.
|And this is where it all began - Ambiorix moored near the Mediterranean, where we found her|
We had the meeting with the Belgium authorities who needed to do the last survey on the boat which allows it to cruise through the European waterways. That all went well, apart from us needing an ENI number and that’s another story altogether.
We put the boat to bed, sorted out the electric supply, did a few jobs on the boat, had to collect the bike from Neiuwpoort - a quick taxi ride - packed some of our personal stuff, (can’t get it all on the bike) booked the tunnel crossing and the next morning we set off for England and home (now what side of the road should I be on?)
And now? The next part of this story starts next year when we move the boat from Veurne on the Belgium/France border to the Netherlands for its internal refit!