2017 Barging France

Leaving the Somme: 31/08 – 01/09

Amiens – Sailly-Laurette – Eclusier-Vaux

We left early in the morning with fine weather that became warmer and sunnier as the day passed. We cruised back along the river side of the Hortillonnages with its gates and gardens, then out into the winding river and more open countryside.

The sunny day made it pleasant for the walkers that we met at Lamotte-Brebière and they passed us again later – that’s how fast you move while cruising!

We had a pleasant, uneventful cruise and passed through Corbie and on through the lock at Sailly-Laurette

In two more days we would be off the River Somme and in Péronne.

and moored, just after 6pm as the locks closed, just the other side in a pleasant location although without any facilities.

A short walk back to the écluse resulted in the discovery of this memorial to the poet Wilfred Owen.

Owen is famous for the poems he wrote about being a soldier in WWI. He was wounded in 1917 and transported back to the 13th Casualty Clearing station at nearby Gailly, for treatment for shell shock. Here he saw the hospital barges in action, being loaded with injured men, to be transported down the Somme for repatriation to the UK (almost all the soldiers in this region were from the UK or British Empire).

Hospital barge on the Somme, WWI.

While here he wrote a poem, ‘Hospital Barge‘ about this experience:

Budging the sluggard ripples of the Somme,
A barge round old Cérisy slowly slewed.
Softly her engines down the current screwed,
And chuckled softly with contented hum,
Till fairy tinklings struck their croonings dumb.
The waters rumpling at the stern subdued;
The lock-gate took her bulging amplitude;
Gently from out the gurgling lock she swum.

One reading by that calm bank shaded eyes
To watch her lessening westward quietly.
Then, as she neared the bend, her funnel screamed.
And that long lamentation made him wise
How unto Avalon, in agony,
Kings passed in the dark barge, which Merlin dreamed.

Owen was killed in battle, just eight days before the war ended, in November 1918.

The memorial, a dove (symbolising peace) sitting on its nest, sculpted by Titus Reinarz, was commemorated in June 1998. Sadly as you can see it has been vandalised recently, but this is how the memorial looked when complete.

Next morning, we took a short cruise to the nearby town of Chipilly. A short walk into town took us to another memorial, this time to the horses that served during the war. The sculpture shows a soldier from the 58th London Division comforting his dying horse. Some 375,000 of them died during the war.

We set off again and a short time later made it through the écluse at La Neuville-lès-Bray. There is a little cafe right beside the lock and the owners have set up the shop as a place where families can let their children run around and enjoy a range of puzzles and games while the adults relax. As we came through the lock, the éclusier asked if we would like to stop for lunch, but we said we would rather keep moving. We don’t normally stop to eat if we are cruising because that post-prandial effect is a heavy price to pay. But of course, the éclusier would be having his lunch so we weren’t going to get very far until he was back on the job. We agreed it would be nice to stop for lunch (he was standing with the cafe’s owners), which consisted of gauffres with jambon, gruyère and egg, accompanied by a (secret recipe) non-alcoholic lunchtime cocktail. Lisette spent part of lunch solving the Tower of Babel puzzle. Ian preferred to eat his meal while it was still warm.

After lunch we cruised on through Cappy and mid-afternoon, tied up to some striking orange bollards, at a pretty location at Éclusier-Vaux, just upstream of the bridge. We had found out that there was a nearby lookout (Le Belvédère de Vaux) with views across the Somme battlefields, so we trotted out the electric bikes and, as hills were anticipated, Ian made sure the battery was on his bike this time. Sure enough, we enjoyed a steep but pleasant climb and then a short walk to the belvédère. The vistas were striking and there were information panels describing the features that could be seen and the events that took place during the war. The panels included ‘postcards’ from some famous writers who had defended these very trenches, among them Robert Graves and John Cocteau.

Just nearby, you could stand in some of the shell craters that still remained and see the remnants of a trench that was almost completely filled in.

We cycled back in weather that was beginning to get a bit threatening. We had planned to cycle to a nearby village where there was reputed to be an excellent restaurant. But happy chance, as the weather closed in, our friends on Le Séga came up from the other side of the bridge where they had moored and we made plans to catch up after we’d each had a quick meal rather than chance the weather with a lengthy bike ride. Good choice it turned out, as the thunderstorm hit soon after!

So we spent a relaxing evening with John and Ginette, swapping stories, plans and general conversation on what was, for Catharina Elisabeth and us, our last night on the Somme.

This cruise on the Somme was intended to be the main event of our season, even in Plan A, and we were not disappointed. By the time we did arrive, we were up to Plan C and were able to spend much longer here than we had originally thought. Behold the fortunate outcome of plans that go awry. This was a wonderfully scenic river, easy to cruise and well maintained and organised by the Somme Department. It really needed double the three weeks we spent going down and up the river to get close to doing it justice – so if you read this and have the time, take four to six weeks to really enjoy all there is to see.

Last, a hat tip to Charles Briggs and Pamela aboard Xenia, whose blog alerted us to many of the interesting features along the waterway that we may not have otherwise found.

Next, we would leave the Somme and take a short detour south to the town of Péronne before heading back north again.

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    2 Responses

  1. Lovely post, you two. I was also touched by the Wilfred Owen connection at Sailly Laurette. In fact the whole of the Somme was a close up reminder of the tragedy of WW1. Amazing that just a bit further on was the base of the German fighter pilot, The Red Baron. We saw an interesting display about him and his squadron at the Bray sur Somme museum.

    1. Good on you! We were aware of some Red Baron commemoration around the area but did not manage to either find it or spend enough time to look. We’d really like to have made it to that museum. Next time perhaps!

      We’ve been very lucky that our first three (moving on to four) years when we have been cruising has been during the centenary commemorations for WWI – it’s been fascinating and sobering at the same time.

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