2018 Barging France

Kruising with Kiwis: 23/7 – 26/7

Arleux – Moislains – Péronne – Noyon – Pont-l’Évêque

Ruyaulcourt Tunnel

We started off at a sensibly early time on yet another sunny windless day. Every day seems to be the same this year – warm or hot, sunny and little or no wind. What’s not to like about that!

Five hours cruising and a series of locks later, we were at the entrance to the tunnel – no one else with us this time. This is reputedly the easiest tunnel in the French network. Wide, well constructed and well lit with a passing lane in the middle. We now knew that if we needed to stop, two ropes were essential to avoid the misadventures of the last time we navigated in this direction.

Now with a more educated appreciation of the 3 kph warning (ie no slower than 3 kph), we nosed in and started the first single width section.

In a short time, we were in the central, double width section. We knew we would be expected to pull up and tie off if the lights changed to red. However, Lisette was sure that she could see, away in the distance, that the light was already red and her feeling was that perhaps we should moor up immediately. This wasn’t Ian’s understanding and some discussion ensued as Catharina motored onwards. This conversation took an abrupt turn in tone and subject matter when, in front, a laden double peniche could be seen approaching! A certain amount of consternation took place on the foredeck and in the wheelhouse.

Now it was too late to stop. There would be no time to get two ropes on because the stern rope had to be fiddled around the base of the concrete walkway. The only option was to push on and rely on the steerage that was available as Catharina was in motion to stop us from getting sucked into the side of the passing commercial. Putting Lisette’s repeated and increasingly frantic pleas to moor in the ‘pending’ basket, Ian held course and trimmed the rudder as we passed, managing to keep away from the commercial. What they thought about us still being in motion as they passed is up for grabs but we suspect it was not complimentary.

Ok, now to pending actions – with some urgency as the next barge was approaching. We executed a quick stop, Lisette had the bow rope on in quick time while Ian took up a spring and hard port rudder in case we didn’t get the stern rope on in time. Struggling manfully, Lisette managed to wrap the stern rope under the concrete and back to Catharina just in time for the next barge to pass – uneventfully. We then had a short time while two others passed for a bit of discussion on “what bit about a red light don’t you understand?” for which the helm had no adequate rejoinder although he agreed ‘stop immediately’ seemed to be the correct answer.

One of the last vessels to pass us.

Finally, in the distance, the red light turned to green. We cast off and headed for the exit which we reached some 30 min later – no further incidents, mercifully.

Once again, we were pretty shattered by the time we exited but at least we knew that there was a nice quiet mooring nearby.

… and note our newly planted flowers.

In no time at all, we were safely tied up in the turning basin at Bois de Vaux (Moislains). This provided time to change our underpants, get out a beer and relax. These moments where we review serious deficiencies in our technique have decreased considerably since the early days and we do truly work through them in good humour and with a positive outlook. Next time we use this tunnel… just kidding, we won’t! We’ll go to the other side of the country and take our chances with the Ham tunnel on the Meuse!

Just about then, the mood elevated considerably as Lisette picked up an email message from Craig, on Liza, our friend from the Courchelettes Resort. He had managed to keep Liza afloat this season and after some weeks on the River Somme, was now in Peronne – just a short cruise away. Where were we? Well, as luck would have it, that was our next planned stop.

So the day ended, as they pretty much always do, in smiles.


In increasingly hot sunny weather, we had a short cruise to Peronne, moored at the long commercial quay again. Liza was moored in the port just behind us and a shortly after we arrived, Craig and his current crewmate, Gwynn, cruised her around so we could socialise better.

That evening we had a serious catch up with Craig and our progress and adventures and swapped plans for our next cruises. Craig was heading south to Noyon and then back north on the Oise and would travel through the Riqueval tunnel. Our plans were the same up to the point of Chauny on the Oise, so it was decided that we would travel together for the next couple of days.

All that agreed and having finished eating and drinking we retired to recuperate and prepare for a biggish day’s cruising the next day.


We set off as a convoy of two, but soon caught up with another, Dutch-flagged cruiser at the first lock. The three of us could just fit in, with Catharina in the middle and Liza at the back.

More sunny weather cruising, with pleasant countryside. A few locks on, we came to the second tunnel on this waterway.

The Panneterie tunnel at just over 1 km in length is shorter than the Ruyaulcourt tunnel (4.35 km) and only wide enough for a single vessel. As there was no prospect of stopping and the entry to the tunnel was strictly controlled with lights, we felt that handling this tunnel should be comparatively simple. And so it transpired. We emerged into the sunshine without incident.

We were intending to get to a mooring at Pont l’Eveque, just south of Noyon, where the River Oise joins the Canal du Nord. It was getting on in the afternoon but we might just have made it by the 6 pm closing time for the écluses on this stretch. However, unbeknownst to us, the leading Dutch cruiser had a chat with the éclusiers at one of the locks and next thing we knew, we were instructed that from the next lock, for ‘safety reasons’, all three boats would not be allowed in. This had not been a problem in the five or so previous locks but there is no point in arguing. Our conspiracy theory was that the Dutch cruiser was in a hurry and didn’t want to wait for three boats to pass each lock. Hmpf…

Well off they sped and as we had to wait for them to clear the next lock and for it to cycle back for us, there was clearly not enough time to make the last lock just before Pont l’Évêque. Our ever-reliable DBA Waterways Guide pointed us to a commercial quay just outside of Noyon and as there was plenty of space, we both moored there.

Not a particularly attractive mooring and the sound of the fans in the silos was quite loud but the company was great. Once night fell, it became quiet, with the trucks no longer coming through to load/unload.

Pont l’Évêque

Next morning it was less than an hour and only one lock to cruise to a quite attractive mooring on the Canal du Nord just before the junction with the River Oise. Both crews hauled our bikes off promptly and headed off for some touristing in Noyon just a couple of kilometres north. The weather had been pretty hot and was now heading into the upper 30’s. We travelled separately from Craig and Gwynn but met up several times, mostly at bars as we all attempted to keep cool and quench our thirst.

Noyon’s main claim to fame is that it is home to one of the earliest Gothic cathedrals in France, Notre-Dame de Noyon whose construction started in 1131.

Next to the cathedral is the memorial to the fallen in the two world wars

and a plaque that memorialises the sacrifice of a rearguard action that took place early in WW2.

These little plaques are dotted all around the towns and countryside – a reminder that this region of France suffered terribly during the 20th century.

The cathedral itself was severely damaged in both the world wars and the scars of the conflict (French law forbids the mere repair of bullet and shell damage during restoration)

and un-restored ruins are visible as you roam around outside.

Inside, the architecture, statutory and painting is imposing and lavish.

Looking towards the choir and its impressive vault.

There are several impressive reliquaries including this one containing that contains some of the remains of Saint Mumolin.

He was born in Germany in the early 5th Century and eventually became one of the early bishops of the Noyon cathedral – well before this current edifice was built. He is credited with commencing the building of the second church on this spot (after the first was destroyed by fire). His saintly activities included helping deaf children and raising a man from the dead. His bones went through several repositories, but the current gilded casket was consecrated in 1852.

Elsewhere, there was a piece of statuary commemorating Joan of Arc.

This group sculpture was created by Emile Pinchon in the late 19th century and is an allegory of the process of rehabilitation of Jeanne d’Arc which began some years after her death whereupon an extended and extensive investigation was undertaken in France to clear her name of the crime of heresy. The sculpture includes Joan (whose face was modelled on that of the sculptor’s wife); Jean de Mailly, the Bishop of Noyon who facilitated the rigged trial of Joan; and, in the foreground, across from Joan, Guillaume Bouillé, the Paris theologian who was initially commissioned to carry out the investigation of the original trial. Eventually, the verdict that Joan was a heretic was annulled in 1456, 25 years after she was burned at the stake.

Another striking, modern sculpture was of Saint Eloi – in ‘scrap metal’ style, also featuring an alcove of horseshoes.

Saint Eloi, patron saint of scrap metal sculptors.

Saint Eloi lived from 588 to 660 and was, in his later years, the bishop of the region that included Noyon and Tournai and was eventually buried in Noyon. Stemming from his work in creating a golden throne for the king of the Franks, he became the patron saint of metal workers. Furthermore, one of his exploits concerned a troublesome horse that a local blacksmith was having difficulty re-shoeing. Asked for advice by the blacksmith, St Eloi took the rather ‘Pythonesque’ approach of chopping off the problematic leg. The horrified blacksmith and the astonished, now three-legged horse, watched as Eloi shod the amputated leg without difficulty. Then, invoking his sainthood powers, Eloi reattached the newly shod leg to the horse and sauntered off whistling a saintly tune as the fully-ambulatory quadruped galloped off in the opposite direction.

There was so much to see (more in the photo gallery below) that while we had to leave over lunch, we returned for a second visit once the cathedral reopened.

A pretty colonnade.
An ornate vault in one of the chapels.
Remembrance of the Great War - commonly seen in churches in N France.
A 16th century mural, recently discovered hidden under plaster and restored - Jesus appearing to Mary Magdelene.
A pretty colonnade.

The next place we visited also had religious associations – the house where John Calvin was born. Now it is a museum to his life and work.

John Calvin was born in Noyon in 1509 and went on to become one of the greatest early reformers of the Catholic church and leader of the development of the Protestant movement following Luther’s original declarations. Calvin eventually spent his most productive and influential years in Geneva but worked hard to help establish a Protestant church in France.

The house mostly contained displays of religious texts from the period of Calvin’s life and some history of his early life in France – his family, the change in his career from the priesthood to a lawyer and then a reformer, and his flight from France to Switzerland. Entirely in French, it was difficult to get the full picture of his significance and we did not tarry for long but it was rewarding to feel the presence of such a giant in the cultural revolution that was the Reformation.

Painting depicting Calvin in his last days.

We made our way back to Catharina with the intention of setting up our barbeque on the grassed area beside her. We relaxed, read, drank and prepared dinner. In this aspect, the mooring met the description in our DBA Waterways Guide as a ‘pleasant spot’ but the caution of ‘subject to occasional train noise’ was well off the mark. The train bridge was almost directly above us and passenger and freight trains passed over it at least every five minutes associated with a deafening cacophony of clatter. Fortunately, the frequency of the trains dropped off as the evening progressed and it did not interfere with our sleep.

Setting up for our BBQ under the rail bridge. Liza bedecked with flags of the nations involved in the Great War.

Our next stage of cruising was to begin tomorrow. Instead of heading down the River Oise directly to Compiegne, we were going to take a big eastward deviation then return westwards to eventually rejoin the Oise at Compiègne. We wanted to travel on some lesser waterways and use smaller locks for a period because, up to this point and otherwise for the rest of the season, we would be on big commercial waterways with big locks. This was to be our chance to downsize and, to slow down after the rush from Belgium.

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    6 Responses

  1. So glad to hear the Craig was able to get out of boatyard hell and do a little cruising. Did his daughter ever get to have any “on the water” time?

    Also, too, we used the mooring right above the Noyon lock when we went through there a couple of years ago. Much better than the silo spot. We just called the eclusier when we showed up to tell him we’d be spending the night and would call the next morning when we were ready to set off. Pas de problem….

    We’re planning on getting to Oldtimer (in Briare) around mid April. Will you folks be around yet, being retired and all?

    1. Craig and Stef didn’t get much cruising in 2017, only up and back to La Bassé. I’m not sure if Stef had a chance to cruise this (2018) year. Staying at the silo was a minor experience, just a short stay.

      Semi-retired for me (Ian) at the moment. From late June to late September we hope to go down from Migennes, along the Nivernais then Loire/Briare/Loing before heading to winter somewhere on the Yonne again. If plans aren’t disrupted of course!

  2. Most interesting reading. Maybe a pair of self-focussing binoculars is needed for your next tunnel adventure?

    1. What we need, is for Ian to believe Lisette when she uses her binoculars and says “oh look, that will be a red light ahead”!

  3. Wonderful to read about your journey down the Nord. That tunnel again. I did laugh…what lovely piece of writing. We stayed in Pont L’Evêque so didn’t make it to Noyen. A visit is in order, I think.

    1. That tunnel, which caused me no concern at all before we even entered it, has certainly been the scene of more than one ‘incident’. We were so sure it would be simple to pass through it for our third time because we knew what to expect, but one should never be complacent about cruising. And I don’t think we are. There are many surprises hiding in these canals and I have a very healthy respect for all of it. But it still catches you out from time to time.
      The old part of Noyon was delightful. We could see the spires of the church from our mooring alongside the silos but decided it would be no more difficult to cycle back to Noyon the following day, once we reached Pont L’Evêque. It is a lovely town and we really enjoyed the cathedral. We always do.

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