Narbonne - CapestangSeptember 16, 2016 in France
Collected the barge Saturday lunchtime and set off down the Canal de Robine towards Salleles D'Aude. First lock within 300m from departure, had to wait for the lock to prepare, then embarrassed myself by overshooting the entrance and had to perform a 12 point turn in a barge fairly reluctant to steer accurately in reverse. Or going astern, if any marine pedants ever read this. Other than that, the normal chaos of ascending a lock, ropes flying everywhere, but one soon settles into a routine.
The recommended speed on the canals is six km/hr, very leisurely indeed. The world passes quietly. The great joy of barging in France is that one is allowed to moor anywhere, unless expressly prohibited. As the locks close at 7 pm we
did this on a quiet stretch, just before Salleles, and just after the lock controlling the merging of the canal and the river Aude. This lock house is remarkable, of beautiful proportions it was built in 1789, fortunately daily life was still continuing as the Revolution started in Paris. The worn limestone steps all contain many fossils. Were the masons curious, cutting the stone and seeing these shapes 250 years ago?
It's the immense sense of antiquity in daily objects that can be quite overwhelming at times. I constantly find myself wondering who built this building, how did they live, what tools did they use. More than ever I desire a time machine.
Salleles d'Aude; a small, simple and lovely town with a very deep lock, lifting the barge a good four meters in one step.
I found the boulangerie Sunday morning at seven. Friendly young man, dusted with flour, selling fresh croissants and bread. Long conversation in pidgin French and English.
From here to the Canal du Midi the canal is lined with stone pines. These, warmed by the sun, lets one drift quietly through a fog of pine scent.
Soon after leaving Salleles you find a pottery near the canal. Established during the first century AD by the Romans for the manufacture of amphorae, it has been in operation in some form or the other since then. Now a museum, amphora are still produced and fired in the reconstructed Roman kilns. A deeply satisfying shape, the amphora, and very practical.
And on to the junction of the two canals.
Heartbreak. Ten years ago the Canal du Midi was a long green tunnel, formed by giant plane trees meeting overhead, through which one moved gently, coolly. Now one moves through a wasteland of dying, dead and felled trees. All through a microscopic fungus called Ceratocystis platani, imported to France during WWII in wooden ammo boxes. Dormant till recently, fully 60% of those glorious trees have gone now, and probably none will be left in three year's time.
The French changed the landscape during the 1600s, now Ceratocystis does it again. Fortunately replanting is in full swing, thousands of Turkish oak, maple and white poplar saplings already line the banks. For the grandchildren.
And perhaps, to myself as a woodworker, the saddest point about this is that all the trees need to be burnt, cremated, to prevent the spreading of the disease. All that beautiful wood. Ai. That good Afrikaans word, what else can one say.Read more