<Dinant – Heer-Aigmont – Chateau Freyr>
At the doorstep of France
The next morning, we set off again, on our way towards Givet and the border with France, although we did not plan to enter France from here, as we did not have time to make use of buying a vignette for such a brief stay.
Continuing along the Meuse, we passed through several pretty little villages, nestled into the hills that bordered the river as it winds its way south towards France. As we cruised past each we looked for possible moorings on our return journey. We saw one attractive possibility – more on that later.
Arriving Heer-Agimont we moored at the old customs quay. These long quays are a relic of the days before the EU and free borders, where boats would moor while the customs officials from the country you had just entered would board each vessel to assess if there was duty to be paid on the cargo. It was a free mooring, just a short stroll from the very tiny village.
Strangely, in retrospect, we were literally only a few hundred steps away from France but did not walk across the border. Perhaps we were saving the experience so we could share it with Catharina Elisabeth. That’s what we like to think anyway.
While this spot was not particularly scenic, we were delighted when a lovely old barge, Silvana, joined us. As it turned out, Ian was on the bridge taking shots of Catharina’s mooring as we always do, when she cruised past. Ian had a quick chat with the skipper and crew – they were pausing as one crew member left and another was to arrive in a couple of days. They were leering after our spot and were pleased to hear we were leaving the next day so they could take our spot.
We were now at the limit of our voyage for this season and now we would be heading back, sometimes along the same route but with many new waterways, exciting attractions and several more sets of guests to help us enjoy it all before we returned, almost to our starting point a few kilometers from Veurne, in about six weeks time.
Lots to look forward to as we headed back.
Our best overnight mooring
The next morning, we retraced our route back through Vieseville and the other small villages we had passed the day before. At the start, Don and Maureen decided to walk ahead for a while – they are big walkers in the UK. That allowed them to take some photos of Catharina Elisabeth cruising – something that is difficult for us to do.
While they were walking, we noticed a somewhat derelict Sherman tank on the riverside – too near the road for Don and Maureen to examine and get good photos, but a reminder of the war in this area and that during the Battle of the Bulge, the German advance came very close to crossing the Meuse, expiring only a couple of km from Dinant.
There were some lovely places we could have moored, and we saw and exchanged good wishes with a number of barges we had seen over the past few days, including our rafting neighbours from Dinant, but we were keen to see if there was any room at the small pontoon outside the Chateau de Freyr.
We’d been alerted to it by the Waterways Guide provided by the DBA to its members and had scanned it on the way past the day before. We knew this wooden pontoon was only 25 m in length and priority is given to hotel boats bringing visitors to the chateau, so we’d be lucky to get a mooring but thought it would make a lovely place to tie up and have our own tour. Sure enough, there was no other boat there when we arrived, so we turned against the current and tied up neatly to the wooden pontoon, right outside the gates to Chateau de Freyr.
Probably the best mooring spot we had all season. We had a beautiful chateau and its gardens on one side and a widening river with towering cliffs on the other side. Nothing else at all – other than a quiet road that carried little traffic and almost none overnight. So isolated that there was no phone or Internet.
As we paid our modest entrance fee, we asked if there were any hotel boats due that afternoon and on hearing that there were not, we also asked if it would be ok if we spent the night there. Yes! So we spent several, relaxed hours touring the old chateau.
It is renowned for its remarkable and very beautiful gardens, highlighted by the 350-years old orange trees for which it is famous. They were originally introduced when the orange tree was an exotic feature in Northern Europe. All the trees are planted in boxes and as winter approaches, they are all taken inside large, heated sheds where they are protected from the cold and frosts of winter. They are then returned next spring to grow, flower and fruit during the summer season.
The garden also featured sculptures, mazes, gazebos, fountains and inside is replete with furniture and the history of the chateau.
After this very satisfying visit – all we had to do was cross the road and hop on board Catharina, to settle in for an evening nestled between the chateau on one side and the cliffs on the other in total, perfect silence. Free mooring, albeit no shore power and no generator, but who cares? Priceless.
We retired to Catharina to prepare a meal and relax in the almost perfect silence in the warm afternoon and then slept under dark skies blazing with stars.