Log #35g Beziers to Carcassonne

July 14, 2005 in Log Series 30-39, Logs by Series, Series 35 France, The Logs

Moissac, Canal Lateral a la Garonne, France

July 14, 2005

Hi Folks,

We are here for the Bastille Day celebrations in France, and hope to be able to send this off from here. The weather is hot and sunny, and this canal, Canal Lateral a la Garonne is easier going then the Canal du Midi as the locks are rectangular, and we are still going downhill. Moissac is a pleasant town with an ancient monastery and church, cobblestone streets, and a vibrant cultural activity. More about it in the relevant log.

All is well, and we will be in Bordeaux in a few days.

All the best,


Log #35g Beziers to Carcassonne

Moissac, Canal Lateral a la Garonne, France

July 14, 2005

For those of you who have a good atlas or chartlets of the Canal du Midi, Beziers is at PK 208.3 or 43˚ 20.05’N, 003˚ 13.17’E. We took a good picture of a wood duck which we saw along the canal side before crossing the arched aqueduct across the River Orb in the late afternoon when we left. It is a strange sensation to be motoring along a canal while crossing a river fifty feet below. From the aqueduct we had a panoramic view of the cathedral and the Church of the Magdalene where the massacre of the Cathars and Beziers population took place in 1208.

Beyond the aqueduct we approached Fonserannes Staircase, a stretch of five locks in sequence to elevate us a height of 13.6 m (about 45 feet).While waiting for the locks, we grounded and finally rafted off another boat. When we entered the lowest lock, we were squeezed in with three other bumper boats, but thankfully at the downstream end of the lock away from the worst turbulence. It was quite a hectic experience maneuvering up each lock, entering only after all of the bumper boats were secured to their respective sides. We did not want to come into a lock while one of them was still trying to secure its lines. Going around the oval locks from one to the next was a challenging exercise in boat handling, heading out, around and in to the next lock. I was quite happy to let the three bumper boats bang around the openings and get alongside each other before I went in astern of the forward port vessel. Because of the oval shapes of the locks we had to be especially careful of the 8 foot mast overhang at our bow (our stern overhang was protected by the dinghy on the DinghyTow). If our stern kicked out to starboard very much, there was a danger of our forward mast overhang hitting the lock wall. We made it through these staircase locks OK. It took us an hour to do the five locks for a total of 13.6 m height.

An hour later we were approaching Columbiers, and grounded solidly while trying to enter their small port. We had to lower Sprite to get us off, and then we moored alongside the canal bank just beyond the town bridge. The town is host to a large bumper boat charter fleet from which we were able to get showers (2 Euros each) and diesel (1.35 Euros per litre, or $2.03 Canadian per litre, or for my American friends who are concerned the gas might go up to $2.00 a gallon US it would be 4 X 1.35 X 1.20 =  $6.48 US per gallon!), and that’s for diesel! It is a pleasant town with wineries as their main economy as well as the charter boats.

Next day we walked a few kilometres up to the Oppidum of Enserune to see the ancient Celtic and Roman ruins dating back to 800 BC and the long-dry Etang de Montady, drained in the 17th century with ditches radiating like spokes of a wheel (or a dart board) out from a central point to channel the waters into the canal. We also had a chance to look into the Malpas Tunnel that we would be transiting next day. We left Columbiers late afternoon next day to proceed a short distance upstream to go alongside the canal bank just before the bridge at Capestang.

This is another medieval town steeped in the history of Languedoc, with an ancient church, solid in its fortifications, but inexplicitly truncated and never finished even though it is over 800 years old. There were a few other ancient stone buildings, some derelict, others with attempts at current use such as culture centres and wineries, the vestiges of walled-up arched windows, stone buttresses deteriorating over the ages, and formerly grand tunnels leading into semi-deserted courtyards. The town had several interesting narrow cobblestone streets, the shutters in varying dusty colours and ranges of disrepair. To our North American eyes, such buildings look deserted, the shutters closing out the outside world, but presumably they hold life and light inside, unknown to the passer-by. We saw a sad memorial outside the church for 24 young men executed by the Nazis in 1944. Unfortunately we have seen many similar memorials in other towns and cities, some commemorating resistance fighters, others commemorating reprisal killings, or people deported never to return or be heard from since. A few houses have plaques indicating that such and such a family was removed and deported on such and such a date, never to return. Another building had a historical plaque indicating it is the original house built in the 12th century, still inhabited. The history behind some of these small towns is remarkable, a rural town with local farms and vineyards, a population of about 500, but a chronology of over 800 years!

On we went next day, placidly motoring through beautiful arches of plane-tree-lined canals, past more vineyards, arched Roman bridges, ancient churches, vineyards, wineries and chateaux. We stopped for 90 minutes at Port Minervois to pick up some of the wines of the area and to take on water in our tanks. On we went through 9 locks that day over a distance of only 26 miles from 0800 to 1800, to moor alongside the canal bank at PK 135 just before the bridge at Puichéric, another village of less than 500 souls but with a history, church and chateau dating back to the 11th century. Our pilot tactfully described the village as maintaining its “medieval character”, meaning the blackened worn cobblestones, with tired buildings and stone church structures never having been cleaned or updated, leaving a grey dull atmosphere of mean narrow streets which time has passed by. It was a depressing town. However, Annie was able to find a patisserie for a fresh baguette in the morning. Rough life!

Next day we were off before 0900, to travel only 9 miles going through 11 locks, although some of them were double and triple lock sets, until we moored along the canal bank at the delightful town of Trebes (PK 117.5) at 1430. We grounded a few times en route while too close to the banks, and have found even in midchannel every once in a while we will slide over a hump of debris, giving us a bit of a bump. Actually one of the reasons we heard for the canal to be bordered with plane trees (I think they are a variety of the maple tree family as their leaves are definitely maple leaf shaped) was that the leaves are rot resistant, thus each fall would provide a reasonably water tight barrier at the bottom of the canals to reduce seepage.  They also produce a magnificent bower over the canal, giving shade beneath the beautiful columns of the mottled tree trunks. I personally have fond associations with the plane tree, as when I was a child living at 50 Main Street in Dundas, Ontario, we had a plane tree out front of our house, and I was constantly warned not to pick the bark off it. I always thought it was a maple tree, and get a warm fuzzy feeling when I see these plane trees over here in France.

Trebes was where Annie and Tony were to leave us, taking a cab with us to Carcassonne, where they would catch a train to Bordeaux, then to Paris for their flight back to Toronto. This gave us a chance to check out Carcassonne, as we would be there in a day ourselves, and I would be leaving Judy to go back to Canada for my granddaughter’s wedding. We found the train station right in front of the canal and marina in Carcassonne. After seeing Tony and Annie off on the train, we checked out the marina and canal. Judy initially wanted to stay at the marina at a charge of 20.00 Euros a night for ten days (cost 200 Euros or $350.00 Canadian). She was about to sign a reservation for such when I arrived and told her that there was a free spot along the canal only 200 yards away with a water tap convenient, but no electricity. She would accept that to save $350.00! Whew!

Back we went to Trebes by bus and had lunch there. It is a pleasant town with all the facilities needed such as shops, good restaurants, and an internet cafe. After the second night there we left for Carcassonne, 6 miles and 5 locks upstream from Trebes, the first on our own without any crew aboard. The lock keepers were co-operative and received our lines without major problems. In a couple of locks other boaters helped us with our lines. It certainly had been much handier having Annie and Tony as crew to help us so far. Thanks Annie and Tony!

Alongside the canalside at Carcassonne, PK 105, we were aground, but within a boarding plank distance of shore, and close to the water tap astern of us. This would be a good place for Judy to stay with Veleda while I went back to Canada for my granddaughter’s wedding.

I had train tickets from Carcassonne to Marseilles, and air fare from Marseilles to Frankfurt then to Toronto. We checked this out on the internet and got a reasonable price. I had not known there was an airport at Carcassonne, and I could possibly have flown from there rather than Marseilles. However after a three hour train ride I was at Marseilles and another half hour took me to the airport by 1900, to leave 0630 next day. So I spent the night in the Marseilles airport! It reminded me of a Tom Hanks movie called “Terminal” in which an eastern European traveler was stranded in a New York Airport terminal for several months. I even collected airport trolleys to help a cleaner on a cleaning Zamboni clear the entrance area. I slept a bit, watched a bit of TV, read the Count of Monte Cristo, and wandered through the empty terminal for 10 ½ hours.

I finally flew out of Marseilles to Toronto, to be picked up by Doug Caldwell who crewed with us from Crete to Italy. Thanks Doug!

More about the enjoyable wedding of my granddaughter in Winnipeg, and a family reunion, in my next log.