2018 Barging France

Towards the Top of the Seine: 6/09 – 15/09

Samois-sur-Seine – Thomery – Saint Mammès – Bray-sur-Seine – Nogent-sur-Seine

Noelle left just before us heading towards Paris and the UK, eventually – while we headed upstream soon after.

The Seine was now a much smaller river although it was still busy commercially and the locks were still well over 150 m long. But the cruising was easy and the scenery pleasant with houses dotted along the banks with steep hills behind them. We planned a very short trip to the town of Thomery where we understood there was a quiet mooring where we could stop and catch up with some maintenance on Catharina Elisabeth. So, after a mere 8 km we pulled up to the 30 m quay in front of the old Thomery Baths.

A very pleasant mooring. The vista of the steep, heavily treed bank across from us – which captured the evening sun beautifully was very easy on the eyes. The concrete quay was easy to tie up to and we made sure that we were solidly roped up. The river was much narrower here and very busy with commercials.

We had one five minute period when no less than eight commercials passed us in both directions. We weren’t unduly bothered by the wash and we enjoy watching the big barges pass – all shapes, sizes, loads and with their thought-provoking names.

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We were away from traffic and even foot traffic was very slight. Not even dog walkers. The village was nearby and had a substantial supermarket, so we could easily top up our provisions. The principal feature of the village was the restored Thomery Baths.

Thomery Plage – approaching our mooring which was about 50 m further upstream.

After WWI two entrepreneurs created ‘Thomery-Plage’ an establishment where Parisians could escape the city to a comfortable riverside resort featuring a restaurant, lounge, tea, dancing, swimming lessons, boat rental and night parties.

The establishment suffered during the Great Depression and did not revive commercially after the war. The rundown baths were taken over by the town in the 1980s and seemed to be being used for local events. We could see what looked like a mature-age birthday or wedding anniversary take place one evening.

All in all, a very quiet, pleasant and productive few days.

Saint Mammes/ Moret-sur-Loing

The next cruise was ‘just around the corner’, only a single lock. Our plans were to moor at Moret-sur-Loing but, for no particular reason, we decided to first pull into St Mammès and so we cruised past the entrance to the River Loing and picked a spot on the jetty. The jetty and pontoons here had only recently re-opened after being devastated in the 2016 floods. The mooring was easy to approach, with plenty of facilities and provided interesting views of passing commercials – although at some distance as the river was quite wide here.

The town of St Mammès is well appointed with shops, clean and tidy and has a significant history related to river traffic. Unfortunately, we did not spend much time in the town as we concentrated on nearby Moret-sur-Loing.

Moret-sur-Loing was a delight. We had long anticipated this visit – having been entranced by the descriptions in Dave and Becky’s blog of Wanderlust’s visit in 2015. We were not disappointed.

The town is situated on the River Loing which flows through the outskirts creating both a water playground and a source of power (in the past) for the mill that sits between the west bank of the Loing and the old walled town. We cycled the short distance from St Mammès on an easy and pleasant path beside the river, past numerous barges and other vessels in various states of repair.

Morning in Moret – two Aussie boats on the right, we spent a couple of very nice evenings on board each.

The stretch also included the old lock which used to be the only one on the Loing and allowed passage past a barrage which no longer exists.

The lock has been restored recently and repaired again after the flood and there is now a number of information posters on the history and barge lifestyle of the area, supplemented with some lovely paintings of the life of the region.

A little further on was a small park with a wall in which was set a sequence of glass windows that had a representation of the various vessels that had used the river etched into the glass.

We so enjoyed this cycle that, in the end, we decided we’d leave Catharina moored at St Mammès and commute to Moret.

We got our first glimpse of this pretty town on a sunny Sunday and everyone was out bathing, splashing, walking, canoeing and generally having a wonderful time along the banks and islands of the river.

The water was shallow in many parts, although this is not always the case as markings on the wall showed the incredible heights that the river can achieve in flood –

most recently in 2016 which was one of the worst ever. It is amazing that the mill and other structures have survived these inundations.

2 June 2016 peak of the flood.

Our main interest in the town was to appreciate one of the locales and the lifestyle of Alfred Sisley, an impressionist painter, contemporary of Monet, Cézanne, Renoir, Manet – but an Englishman. He was born in Paris and lived most of his life in France although he occasionally visited the UK. He lived the latter part of his life in Moret-sur-Loing, with his family, in poverty and died in 1899. His paintings are likened to those of Monet although are generally of a lighter, more pastel style.

Like Auvers-sur-Oise and Ruel-Malmaison, the area is dotted with podiums displaying his works in the context in which they were painted

and, like the influence of Giverny on Monet, it is easy to see how the pretty town of Moret inspired many of his paintings.

The modern aspect.

It was a pleasure to simply walk around the town but we did visit a small gallery which featured Sisley’s work and some of the historical background to his work.  We also spent some time in the mill that sits in the middle of the river with its impressive waterwheel and the collection of sluices that would have governed the flow of water around it. Inside is a permanent exhibition to, of all things, barley sugar!

The Sucre d’orge des Religieuses de Moret dates back to the 17th century and the recipe has been kept a secret right up to today. Originally it was made by nuns in the convent in Moret and provided as substantial income to their order. One particular nun is of note – “La Mauresse” as black-skinned woman who was reputed to be the daughter of Marie-Therese of Austria, the wife of Louis XIV. Various theories were held as to why the wife of the king had a dark-skinned daughter including the consumption of too much chocolate during the pregnancy. Others noted “a handsome little Moor who was always in the Queen’s company”.

The nuns were forced to give up making the Sucre d’Orge in 1960 following a papal edict. Fortunately, a local family, the Rousseaus offered to continue with making the barley sugar and the secret recipe, on a scrap of paper, was passed to them and securely locked away. You can, of course, buy the very expensive barley sugar in the museum!

We also explored the Church of Notre Dame and, just nearby, found the place where Sisley spent the last 20 years of his life.

Another fascinating bit of renaissance architecture was the facade of a building – the Galerie de l’Hôtel Chabouillé just behind the Hotel de Ville. Originally part of a building in Moret that was constructed in 1527 by Nicolas Chabouillé a tax collector for King Francis I. He was rich enough to have the building decorated and with sculptures in an Italian style with royal and classical motifs.

The entire building was transported to Paris in 1822 where it remained until in 1955 it was to be demolished for a development but arrangements were made to return the facade to Moret.

Left to right: Louis XII, Anne de Bretagne, Francis II; fleur de Lis and Margaret of Navarre; Henry II, Diana of Poitiers, Francis I. At the top: by Epicteus “He who knows how to restrain his tongue and control his senses is stronger than the conqueror of cities.”

The stonework is ornate and features busts of the kings and queens of the Valois house and on the upper level, the deeds of Hercules (lots of good photos in the lost camera!).

The salamander motif is the emblem of King Francis I.

Three days was not enough in Moret-sur-Loing but, fortunately, our plans for next year will have us pass again – perhaps we can stay longer then.

On our return to Catharina, Lisette fell into chatting with the chap on board the yacht moored off our bow. He was marooned on the jetty whilst some mechanical issues were being fixed. He kindly offered to share a bottle of rum with Lisette but she countered with, and he accepted, an offer to come aboard Catharina. We spent a very pleasant time discussing all manner of subjects including that Daniel had been born during the war in Vichy France but his parents had moved to Morocco which was where he grew up.

Next morning, while Daniel waved his French flag vigorously, we left for our next mooring at Bray-sur-Seine.


Again, a pretty and uneventful cruise with the river banks becoming a little closer, a bit of commercial traffic but we still had the few locks to ourselves. We tied up, very tightly, on the floating pontoon next to a park close to the services. Reports were that the free water was disconnected (correct) but that there was power available (not in our experience). However, it was a pleasant mooring with the pontoon in good condition.

It sure was busy! The other side of the river was about 30 m away and commercials came past, in both directions at a rate of about half a dozen per hour.

There are some busy gravel and sand quays in Nogent-sur-Seine. On a number of occasions, two commercials passed us heading in each direction at the same time. Give them their due, however, they were incredibly courteous and were never travelling fast and with the floating pontoon taking some of the bounce, we never experienced more than a bit of rocking.

The town was striking, at least to us, for the number of wooden-beamed houses. We had seen some in Moret-sur-Loing, and really none previously.

Definitely NOT the house of Joan of Arc.

They were in various states of repair. The house in the photo was shuttered but appeared to have once been touristic judging by some information wilting on the door. It seems that the house may have been known as the house of Joan of Arc following the actions of a photographer in the 1920’s who used it as an image on a postcard but has no relationship with her at all (although the information suggests that Joan of Arc passed through Bray in 1428 – every small town commemorates any visit by Jeanne and Napoleon!).

See what we mean!

We spent time on more maintenance, prepping and painting metal, sanding and staining wood – the usual but we had a circuit of the town which was pleasant if unremarkable.

There was a nice covered market (which we were able to visit), a church we couldn’t enter, a house visited by Napoleon I but perhaps the most interesting features were in the park adjacent to the mooring.

The park was home to a collection of sheep, goats, chickens and other small agrarian animals, seemingly under no particular supervision, nor was there any indication that this was petting zoo or something similar. The lambs and goats had been moved after the first day we were there, but chickens continued to mooch around the park for the entirety of our stay.

The other feature was that several of the poplar (I think) trees had been trimmed, cut down or sculpted in some fashion. There certainly was artistic intent on the part of whoever had been working with the chainsaw.

It turns out that recently, someone identified the trees as diseased. The Marie arranged for the diseased trees to be removed. However, part way through, it was determined that the trees were not diseased after all.

Work stopped and presumably a bit shamefaced, the Marie arranged for some of the chainsawed trees to be treated artistically, as if this was always the intent.

Regrowth art.

Our other event in Bray was that we finally managed to have a proper restaurant meal in town. Other than in Paris, we hadn’t managed to find an opportune time to treat ourselves. Ian learnt a bit about handling an order for an entrée of confit fish. A massive stone dish was placed rather ceremoniously on the table, and we were both somewhat concerned to see a good dozen medium sized fish floating in flavoured oil. Ian tucked in, a little nervous about the number of courses we had ordered, and after consuming several of the monsters, we decided this might be one of those dishes the French take from table to table, letting you serve yourself. Somewhat red-faced, and more than somewhat stuffed with fish, we indicated we were done with this course and ready for the next. However, the food was delicious and well presented.

Next day, it was off to our cruising limit for this season.


Most of the cruise to Nogent-sur-Seine was along a canal built to bypass shallow and winding stretches of the Petit Seine. It was deep and wide, having been designed to handle the large amount of heavy commercial traffic moving the road building material downstream from Nogent.

One feature that dominated the distance was the steam plume from the nuclear power station at Nogent. We were looking forward to a visit there in the next couple of days.

At the first lock into the canal, we were asked what our intentions were at Nogent – were we going to go through the écluse or stay on the canal side of town. As we’d heard that because of silting and the low levels of water this summer, passing the lock was not recommended for any vessel with a draft more than 1 m, at 1.2 m, that ruled Catharina out. So, no, we were not going to pass the écluse.

Hence we started to look around the big basin that marks entry into Nogent – starting with a significant length of commercial moorings (too busy to risk) and ending up in front of the old mill – where we tucked in against a high concrete wall with concrete fence posts around which we could pass our lines. In addition, there was a concrete shelf just under the waterline and we had to drop tyres down to protect Catharina’s hull from rubbing against the edge.

Doesn’t sound too salubrious does it? But it was a ‘mast up’ mooring without a doubt. The mill in front was spectactular,

the basin large and not used by the commercials so there was no wash, beside us was a lovely building with the church tower behind,

Mind you, note the high wall we had to scale to get on land.

the other side of the basin was a pretty park and the weather was glorious.

A lovely spot to mark the limit of this year’s cruising.

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    6 Responses

    1. Still, for most of the season, it has been the Helm sweltering in the wheelhouse who has also been suffering!

    1. Thanks – sorry it took so long to show up.

  1. Lovely post. I shouldn’t read these this year, though. It just makes me jealous. I hope you’re having an equally good season now!

    1. It has been a lovely season, with some less pleasant instances, but nothing too bad so we are enjoying a much more relaxed cruising style than all our previous seasons. We have 20 km and about eight locks separating us from our wintering spot, and a month to get there!

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