2016 Barging Belgium

Two abbeys and three guests: 13-14/08


Well, we’d better get going, we have a date and place to pick up guests and another date and place for Mr Deutz to fix the genny – we had a schedule to keep! So next we would be retracing our cruise along the lower Sambre, with the aim to travel as far up the Haute (upper) Sambre as possible – with our eyes on France as the eventual destination for this leg.

First, we had to get to Charleroi to pick up our most highly anticipated guest – Panache. He would be waiting at Marchienne-au-Pont with the crew of his barge ‘t Majeur –, Michel and Rebecca. However, along the way, we wanted to stop and visit the nearby village of Floreffe. We had passed the village and its imposing Abbey on the way to Namur and the moorings looked excellent. An early start and a short trip would mean we would have plenty of time for exploration even if we only stayed one night.

We cast off, turned around, passed under the arches of the Pont de Jambes and tooted Hoop doet Leven as we passed and turned up the Sambre.

Passing several lovely barges moored right in the centre of the city, we enjoyed a short, relaxing cruise in fine, sunny weather and were soon moored under the Abbey at Floreffe on a pontoon, just behind a party boat, at the foot of a high stone wall. In the glorious early afternoon sunshine, we had a quick beer on the aft deck, a suitable reward for a lovely morning’s cruise, and set off up the very very steep hill to find the abbey.Before we arrived at the abbey, though, we came across a wonderful old church with an ancient graveyard, high up on the hill with a glorious view down to the river below. What a peaceful resting place. Lisette is pretty enamoured of cemeteries and takes great delight in wandering around reading the fading inscriptions.

Before we arrived at the abbey, though, we came across a wonderful old church with an ancient graveyard, high up on the hill with a glorious view down to the river below. What a peaceful resting place. Lisette is pretty enamoured of cemeteries and takes great delight in wandering around reading the fading inscriptions.

Once we arrived at the Abbey precinct, we found the entrance in the old converted flour mill that also used to house the brewery which was in use from around 1250 to the 1790’s. This mill-brewery is Belgium’s oldest, preserved industrial building.

Been a mill and a brewery since the 13th century!

It also sported a modest cafe and sold some local produce. More on that later. After paying the trivial entrance fee we walked through some lush and well-kept gardens, dotted with people eating picnics and consuming cafe fare. Up some more steps and we were at the main part of the Abbey.

The Abbey itself is on the left of the photo.

The Abbey was founded in 1112 and lasted until it was suppressed by the Napoleonic armies in the 1790’s. While it later returned to religious use as a seminary, that has now ceased and the main community feature is that it houses a school. The Abbey church is striking and impressive from the outside but as we were taken around by a tri-lingual guide, you could see that the inside was in need (and indeed was receiving) considerable restoration.

We joined a tour that was just about to begin, and the fellow looking after us, promptly added English to his list of languages that he would use to take us through and tell us about the abbey. Apparently effortlessly he went from Dutch, to English, to French as we stopped at each place along the tour. Very impressive. While we can never be certain the tour guide is giving precisely the same information to each language group it is a great opportunity for Lisette to see how much she can understand of the French version too.

There were some splendid carved pews that had withstood the test of time really well,  interspersed in between the cracked and sometimes yellowing walls. Our guide gave us some fascinating history of the lives of the monks who lived and served in the abbey.

A fair bit of renovation still needed throughout the abbey.

The other feature of near the Abbey was, of course, that we could look down to the Sambre, see Catharina at her mooring and watch as one of the big (100-120 m) commercial barges crept slowly past. The sharp curve in the river at Floreffe means they have to slow right down, which makes for a quiet mooring.

The commercial barge is at least five times the length and three times the width of Catharina.

After some exploration of the gardens, we headed back to the old mill and the produce section. Lisette bought some local terrine and we both splashed out on half a dozen of varieties of Floreffe Beer. We also had a taste as we recharged for the walk down and in particular, Ian loved the dark tripel – deep rich and a hint of chocolate. One of his favourites for the whole season. The bottles were also unusual in that they were stoppered rather than capped.

The four beers on offer. Too hard to choose so we opted for a couple of mixed four-packs.

Anyhow, they were destined for the bilges as we had decided to save them to share with Gill and Graham who, earlier in the afternoon, we had taunted over Facetime while relaxing on the back deck, drinking other beers, basking in the sunshine with the Abbey above whilst they suffered a brisk, early winter morning in Australia.

The rooster, the symbol of Wallonia.

After a relaxed, pleasant walk around the village, passing but not entering a traiteur that is renowned amongst our barging friends, we settled down to a relaxed evening and quiet night’s sleep in what was a truly glorious setting, overlooked by the abbey high above us.

Picking up the guests

The following morning we cast off reasonably early heading towards Charleroi. The first part of this trip was quite lovely, the Sambre, although canalised has lovely green fields and winds gently back and forth – dotted with small villages and some striking buildings. As we came closer to Charleroi it became a little less attractive as some of the industrial decay became apparent.

Some huge but decaying factories near Charleroi.

It was a quiet, sunny Sunday so that may have helped limit the volume of commercial traffic. We negotiated the snaking section through the centre of the city, on the ‘wrong’ side as we had done in the other direction a couple of weeks earlier and, after the lock at Marcinelle, passed the entrance to the Canal du Centre from which we had emerged about two weeks previously and cruised into new territory – the Belgian Haute Sambre.

Quite a pretty mooring.

A short cruise from there and six hours after leaving Floreffe, we tied up at the pontoon at Marchienne-au-Pont just in front of a resident church barge.

We were quite tempted by a converted church barge before buying Catharina. Not this one though!

The mooring was unserviced but next to a park and some disused buildings, one of which contained a large, empty swimming pool. Across from us were several of the medium sized barges moored because it was Sunday. As usual, the owners were back and forth painting, washing, scrubbing, hammering and so forth – they are incredibly assiduous in maintaining what is, after all, both their home and their livelihood.

A lovely library was housed in this old building situated in a pretty garden right next to our mooring.

Presently, Panache arrived with Rebecca and Michel in tow. We were all thrilled to catch up and everyone was soon settled in. They had brought along dinner: a fabulous Nasi Goreng with ALL the trimmings for us to eat that night, so we could relax, chat and enjoy the afternoon without having to create the evening meal.

Because we had all arrived at our meeting point earlier than first thought, having made space in their car by unloading Michel and Rebecca’s belongings, we all piled into their car for a short trip along the river passing several of the locks that we would be using the following day.

Abbaye d’Aulne

Our destination was the Abbay d’Aulne via a circuitous route based on Rebecca and Michel’s somewhat vague recollection of visiting it five years ago – and managed to get a great parking spot despite the hordes of locals and tourists out on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

The Abbay d’Aulne is itself a ruin, having been largely destroyed by the French in 1794 along with its library of 40,000 books and 5,000 manuscripts. However, like most Abbeys in Belgium, it has beer. Very nice beer too. And lots of variety. And relatively cheap. So, we settled ourselves down in the un-ruined Brasserie for a cool dubbel or tripel – and it was wonderful. We did not have time to do justice to a visit to the abbey on this occasion, so we settled for the beer, and a promise to ourselves that we would most certainly be coming back the following week, and planned a longer visit on that occasion.

The ruins of the Abbey and the brasserie from across the river.

We were treated to the ruins behind, the Sambre and the Abbaye d’Aulne lock in front of use (through which we would pass tomorrow) and the crowds of happy people. Just pleasant conversation and the occasional ‘woof’ from Panache as he greeted another dog passing by.

We returned to Catharina for a lovely meal, more chatting and off to bed – three guests in the voorunder for the first time, ready for our cruise up the Sambre to Thuin the next day for our next appointment, the day after, with Mr Deutz.

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    4 Responses

    1. Thanks Shaun – looking forward to hearing of your adventures,

    1. We’re enjoying reading your forays into UK cruising. Quite novel for us – keep writing!

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