30. Condom & Valence-sur-Baïse

This post cover our stay in Condom and Valence-sur-Baïse (as far as we can go up the river).

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Condom has a name that makes Anglo-Saxons smile.  It’s harbour, in the river section, is big and inviting.  From here in bygone days, barrels of brandy-wine and loads of cloth set off for the Garonne and the Bordeaux quays.  Several vestiges of this former activity are visible.

Saturday 31st August.  Dave was up before daybreak today as he wanted to have a video call with one of his daughters and her young family, before they got busy with dinner, bathing and bedtime.  He had a good chat to them and then my elder son videoed me and we (James, his wife, daughter and my daughter – who is visiting him in Auckland) had a good catch up.  It’s only five weeks now before we can catch up with family and friends in person – the time just seems to be racing by, and I’m looking forward to being home again soon.

We couldn’t get back to sleep, so had a slow get up and got ourselves organised to go on a bike ride.  I packed our lunch while Dave busied himself getting our bikes off the boat.   We have had difficulties finding good maps that show cycle ways in this area (Gers) – unlike in the Lot-et-Garonne, where we were spoilt for choice.  We therefore decided to see if we could get a detailed map on our way to the village we intended visiting today. (La Romieu).  We stopped at the Condom tourism office, but it was closed.

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The tourism office is opposite the magnificent Saint-Pierre Cathedral (listed as an UNESCO World Heritage site under the title of Routes to Saint-Jacques de Compestelle).

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We didn’t go in as we visited this when we were here, by car, with my brother and sister-in-law in May.  I did however, take the opportunity to have a close up look at the more than life sized statues of d’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers, created in 2010 by Zurab Tsereteli ( a Soviet/Russian sculptor and architect).  D’Artagnan (born as Charles de Batz de Castelmore in 1611), was a French Musketeer who served Louis XIV as captain of the Musketeers of the Guard.  He died in 1673, at the Siege of Maastricht in the Franco-Dutch War.  A  fictionalised account of his life, formed the basis for the d’Artagan Romances by Alexandre Dumas, most famously including The Three Musketeers (1844). The heavily fictionalized version of d’Artagnan featured in Dumas’ works and their subsequent screen adaptations, is probably now far more widely known than the real historical figure.

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I also stopped to have a closer look at the beautiful flower displays in the area around the cathedral.

On our way again, we stopped at the supermarket (they along with Tabacs are the places to buy maps) but the only one for sale, which was very expensive, didn’t provide much more information than we already had.  We therefore decided we would probably have to go along one of the busier roads first, before being able to turn off onto a hopefully quieter country roads.

The first part of the ride was a steady climb, and then it was a case of downhill, then up, then down a number of times.  The hills weren’t too steep (or at least our bikes could cope with them) but they were quite long.  About 10 kilometres later we reached La Romieu, which sits 187 metres above sea level.  We parked our bikes in the arcaded square lined with buildings with bright stone façades.

La Romieu is a small village (population of about 500) in the north of the Gers and is one of the 157 villages that have been awarded the quality label of Les Plus Beaux Villes de France (most beautiful villages in France).  It was founded in 1062 by two Benedictine monks on their return from a pilgrimage to Rome (through Toulouse by way of Santiago). It takes its name from the Gascon word roumiou, meaning pilgrimage.  Today the village remains a stopping point of the Chemin-de-Compostelle.

The area gained greater importance in the early 14th century, when the powerful Cardinal Arnaud d’Aux, a native of the village, and cousin of Avignon’s pope (Clement V), wanted to build a church in his village.  The resulting collegiate church of Saint-Pierre was built in a Southern-Gothic style and with great speed in six years.  It consists of a church, a sacristy with unique paintings on its walls, two 33 metre high towers (one of which houses a bell ), a double spiral staircase with a secret passageway, a cloister and a palace from which the cardinal’s tower is the last remaining vestige.

The view from openings in the stairwell and at the top of the octagonal tower was spectacular.

At different stages of our tour around the church, including when we climbed the octagonal tower we could see the church’s timber support structures – I wondered what my (builder) son Paul would make of that. The oak timbers were soaked for several years before being used for construction.

The 16th century wars of religion saw the collegiate and cloisters looted and burnt.  Amazingly the pillars still show evidence of the fire damage.  These are gradually being restored.

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Two centuries later, during the terrors of the French Revolution the collegiate was once again razed to the ground.  Following the Revolution the collegiate became the property of the village.  It has been listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1998.

The frescoes in the sacristy have recently been restored.  I understand that originally, the whole of the church was decorated with similar frescoes.

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It was quite remarkable to see such an attractive and interesting edifice in such a small village.

When I went into the tourist office, in search of a map, I was interested to see there were lots of cat ornaments for sale.

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Then I noticed numerous life size stone sculptures of cats sitting on windowsills or peering out of windows.

Thanks to a pamphlet I picked up from the tourism office, I learned that they are the work of artist Maurice Serreau, who moved to this quiet village to retire.

The story goes that one day in the early 1990s, he decided to sculpt a cat.  Then he made another and another.  He made cats for everyone – he just couldn’t stop himself and soon the cats were appearing all around the village.  When people began to ask why the town had so many cat sculptures, he explained that he had been inspired when he overheard a woman telling her grandchildren about the legend of Angeline and her cats that saved the village, and it goes something like this…

In 1338, a little girl called Angeline was born in La Romieu. While she was still very young, both her parents died suddenly, and she was adopted by a kind couple that lived nearby.  As Angeline grew, so did her love for cats – there were always a few that followed her wherever she went.

During this time, two years of severe weather caused a famine and the town’s people were hungry.  They were searching everywhere for anything that was edible.  Soon the village cats started to disappear as the starving villagers resorted to eating cat stew.  Angeline was horrified and begged her adoptive parents to let her hide a couple of cats in the attic.  She had already lost her parents and they didn’t want her to suffer the loss of her beloved cats as well, so they agreed.  Since Angeline hid one male and one female, her kitten collection increased steadily.

Finally, to everyone’s relief, the weather improved, crops flourished, and food was again plentiful. But because there hadn’t been any cats to patrol the village streets, the rats had overrun the town and were ravaging the crops. The towns people held a meeting to try to find a solution. Everyone was surprised but happy when Angeline announced that she had twenty cats (as the cat population in her attic had increased tenfold) and they would be more than happy to help with the rat problem. All were in agreement and the cats were let loose in the village. The rats soon disappeared and the crops were no longer threatened.

Village life returned to normal and Angeline went back to helping her adoptive parents work in the fields, always surrounded by her cats. But as she grew older, something very strange happened to Angeline: people say her face began to take on the appearance of a cat and even her ears transformed into pointed cat ears.  A bust of Angeline, looking very cat-like, can be seen on one of the buildings in the village.

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To this day la Romieu is known as the village of cats.

We cycled around and through the quaint narrow streets of the village, before cycling on to Les Jardins de Coursiana, (Coursiana Gardens) about a kilometre away (On the way we heard the magnificent bells in the collegiate church’s bell chiming out at midday).

The gardens are classified as a Jardin Remarquable.  An arboretum was created in 1974 by Gilbert Cours D’arne, a prominent botanist (about 20 plants native to Madagascar are named after him).  In 1995, Véronique and Arnaud Delannoy bought the property and set about renovating the entire estate and opened it to the public.  They have received a number of awards and continue to add to, and enhance the gardens as a family run business.

As we entered into the grounds I was immediately taken by the beautiful English garden that surrounds the old stone house (the owners live in) and its old dovecote.  This is my all-time favourite type of garden, one I tried (with limited success) to recreate in the perennial borders on my Whanganui lifestyle block.

We went into the reception area and checked it was okay to eat our picnic lunch on the grounds (as they have a small café).  The woman said that was fine as we had paid an entrance fee.  We found a nearby table in the shade of a tree, where we were had our lunch (in the company of a very friendly dog that just came and lay down by our table).

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We then walked through the magnificent grounds (covering six hectares consisting of a potager, orchard, medicinal and herb garden, water garden, roses galore, arboretum comprising 700 species of trees and shrubs from five continents, and large expanses of lawn).

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We stopped frequently to sit of the benches located throughout the garden. One of these was below a magnificent oak tree planted in 1885.

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All the plants are named and the gardens seem to be very well maintained – we were impressed.

The collegiate church can be seen from the gardens.

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It was quite hot (31°C) ,and as we weren’t completely sure of an alternate route back, so we returned along the same roads we had come on, stopping to pick up some fish for dinner.

Once back at the boat, Dave immediately put the air conditioning on, we rehydrated with some cold drinks and then had a siesta.

A hire boat, with a group of Aussies on it moored up in front of us.  Dave went to have a chat with them – they had come down from Valence and we were keen to know how they had got on (I’m still not convinced we can’t make it to Valence in the boat).  They had no difficulty with the depth of water but they didn’t know what their boat’s draft was (I later found out it was .85 metres – 5 centimetres more than ours).  Talking to them Dave discovered they live in Melbourne and one of the women, a nurse, is very familiar with products my brother’s company (Denyers) products (hospital theatre lights and operating tables).

A cool breeze picked up in the evening and it was very pleasant eating our dinner on the back of the boat – after yet another wonderful day.

Sunday 1st September.  Well today is officially the first day of Autumn and we did indeed wake to the prospects of a much cooler day, which was good as it had been getting too hot again over the last week.

After breakfast, Dave’s first task was to try, using a couple of magnets, to find his spectacles, – they had slipped out of his pocket yesterday when he was getting back on the boat.  He didn’t have any luck (so he will need to go to a pharmacy and buy another ‘off the shelf’ $10 pair).

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While he was ‘fishing’ he could see that the Aussies were up and about and so he went to have a chat to them. He ended up lending them his electric drill as they had broken a fender coming through a lock yesterday and wanted to repair it with some cable ties, in the hope Locaboat wouldn’t see it and charge them for it.

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Hearing them talking, reminded me that there was a market this morning, quite close to the port.  On the way we went past an interesting second hand store (the prices were very high and it seems someone must have visited Asia).

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The market wasn’t huge but all the stalls were selling locally produced fruit, vegetables, cheeses, honey, bread, pastries, cooked ham, rotisserie chickens, bags of snails and other dishes.  It has been ages since we’ve been to a local market like this – I love the way the stallholders display their wares and how the fruit and vegetables come in all shapes, sizes and varieties.  But no sweetcorn could be seen, and Dave wanted some.

Dave and the Aussies sampled some Armagnac (for which this region is famous, as I mentioned in my last post).

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There was a group of young men drinking up large opposite the market.  The Aussies told us it was a ‘buck’ (i.e. for us Kiwis a stag) do.  They had seen the group earlier in the morning, all wearing nappies, swilling beer near the cathedral.

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We came back and enjoyed the pastries we bought at the market, with a cup of tea.

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Dave noted that the fisherman on the other side of the canal, dressed in camouflage gear, had got very animated and shown off to a couple of mates when they came to see him.  We didn’t see him catch anything.

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As there is a free washing machine and dryer we can use at the port (usually it costs €5 each), I decided to take advantage of that and wash all our bed linen and towels.  I also had several things I needed to do on the computer and on the boat more generally, so I decided to stay on board, while Dave went off on a bike ride.

Around lunch time the big paddle boat moored near us left the port to take a group of tourists for a lunch time cruise up the Baïse.  Everyone seemed to be having fun.

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I had a very productive day, catching up on lots of things.  I also ended up doing five loads of washing and six of drying so saved €95.

Dave came back with the good news that we can go further up the Baïse to Valence.  He had cycled to Valence, via the double lock that is ‘manned’ by a lock keeper (who advised that as La Caunette’s draught is only 80 centimetres, we should have 10 centimetres clearance – Dave will have to curb his tendency to be easily distracted and make sure he drives straight!).  He enjoyed his ride, despite being spat on by a few drops of rain.  It was cool, the route he took was interesting and he is keen to explore Valence some more.

A group of ducks came and said hello while we were having dinner.

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A bit later in the evening it started to rain quite heavily.  We hoped it would clear overnight as we have a cycle ride planned for tomorrow.

Monday 2nd September.  We started the day hearing a lot of metal scraping next to the boat and people talking.  It turned out to be a group of people clearing weeds from the quay side (we suspect they were some sort of community service work gang).

Our plan today was to do a ‘loop’ bike ride, taking in three more of Les Beaux Villes de France.

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I went and bought a baguette and something for morning tea while Dave got the bikes off the boat – we were able to leave early before it got too hot.  The first part of our ride took us along a Voie vert– a designated cycle and pedestrian walkway.  The one we went on was a disused railway line.  The surface was excellent (new tar-seal) and while there was a gentle incline it was very easy and attractive.

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We left the cycleway after about five kilometres, to visit the tiny mediæval fortress-village of Larresingle, that towers above the grapevines that dominate the countryside.

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The village lies beyond a fortified gateway, just past a bridge, straddling a green moat. It backs onto a crown of ramparts encircling the castle keep (for many years the residence of the bishops of Condom) and a high church with two naves (I’ve taken a picture off the internet to illustrate this).

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The village was saved from ruin by a committee, financed by generous Americans from Boston.  A plaque in the village recognises their donations.

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Today the village is a wonderful collection of heritage buildings from the area’s rich mediæval past, including a castle, dating from the 13th, 14th and 16th centuries which has three floors and a pentagonal tower, a fortified gateway, and the remains of its surrounding walls (with it being a Monday, when everything seems to be shut, it wasn’t open so we couldn’t look inside it).

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We had a look inside the Romanesque Église Saint-Sigismond – there was an interesting art installation next to it – reflecting pieces that had fallen off it.

We wandered around the charming and finely built residences, decorated with mullioned windows and roofed with ochre tiles.  One of these housed a very interesting souvenir/gift shop.

Larresingle is on the pilgrimage route and we saw a few pilgrims having a rest at the village.  At least the weather is a bit cooler for people making the pilgrimage at this time of the year.

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We went and had a look at a big pigeonnier on the outskirts of the village.

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We then cycled back to the voie vert, stopping to look at the Pont de l’ArtiguesBuilt between the 12th and 13th centuries, it is one of a few remaining civil architectural structures of that time that are still standing.  It is exactly 1,000 kilometres from Compostella and was built specifically for the passage of pilgrims.  It was probably rebuilt in the 18th century and has been listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1998.  Apparently, it is crossed over by around 2,700 Santiago Pilgrims each year.  There were several displays boards explaining the history of the bridge, it’s surrounding area and the flora and fauna that can be found there.  We saw another group of pilgrims crossing the bridge.

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Once back on the cycle way, we continued our ride through a lovely tunnelled route, stopping for morning tea on the way.

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As we continued on, we saw signs that said the ‘marked’ cycleway was about to end.  There was still a good sealed track, so we carried on along it, ignoring and going around the side of a temporary fence that said it was blocked off.

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When we got to the other end of the blocked off area, we needed to consult ‘Google maps’ to see where exactly we were, as it wasn’t clear from the map we had.  We carried on for a few more kilometres but we both began to wonder if we were on the right track.  I checked ‘Google maps’ again and realised we were heading in the wrong direction.  I therefore set up the route we wanted to go on my phone.  We set off, Dave leading the way.  As I approached the road we needed to turn down, I called out to him and he looked around – I assumed he had seen me turn off the road we had both been on,  but soon I realised he wasn’t behind me, so I stopped and waited 10 minutes before phoning him to see where he was – he thought I had called out to warn him about a car that was about to pass him and he was about three kilometres away.  I tried to give him directions but in the end suggested we meet at Séviac– the site of a Gallo-Roman villa, we wanted to visit.

I made my way there and waited and waited, but no sign of Dave – he seemed to have cycled even further away.  In the end we agreed to meet at the church in Montréal-du-Gers (the next village we planned to visit). This time he turned up shortly after me and we enjoyed our picnic lunch in the square (watching two women who were filling up vases for flower arrangements in the nearby church.

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The fortified town of Montréal, surrounded by vineyards, was built in 1255, by Alphonese de Poitiers, brother of Louis IX (Saint Louis).  It was the first bastide built in the area, and sits on a rocky spur around which twists the Auzoue river (a tributary of the Baïse).  It’s layout follows the classic grid pattern, roads and cobbled streets lead to the central square, which has arcades on three sides.

We went and had a look at the 13th century Gothic Église Saint-Phillipe-et-Saint-Jacques, which is built into the fortifications, and its flat, square tower looks down on half-timbered houses.  An ogee gate survives from the fortifications.  The two women we saw at lunch time were busy arranging flowers and the sun was shining through the stained glass windows, creating a lovely pattern on the floor.

Just as we left the church to get our bikes, we saw the group of women pilgrims, we had seen crossing the Pont de l’Artigues earlier in the day. They had made good progress.

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We cycled around the village before going on a further six kilometres to the third ‘beautiful village of France’ – Fourcès.  This tiny village is nestled in a loop of the Anzoue river, at the end of a 15th century bridge, and forms a circle around a central town ‘square’, shaded by plane trees (as shown in another photo I have taken from the internet).

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The village developed in the 11th century under the protection of a castle, which occupied the main square and ramparts, of which the 13th century Porte de l’Horloge (clock tower – a listed monument) remains.

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In 1279, Fourcès fell into the hands of the Edward I of England who, ten years later, made it a bastide by granting it a charter of customs.  Every year, in the theatrical setting of the village’s arcades, overhanging first-floors and half timbered façades, the square hosts an exceptional flower festival (the last weekend in April).

I went across the bridge to have a look at the Église Saint Laurent (built during the Middle Ages and renovated in the late 19th century).

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The late 15th century Château de Fourcès is also located on the river.  The two wings of the castle, incomplete, meet on a round tower of the same height.  The building retains its high exterior façade adorned with mullioned windows and its staircase with broad, paved scrolls. It escaped ruin by becoming a hotel-restaurant, and since 2010 has been a guesthouse.

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Dave went for a whizz around the village while I sat in the town square, taking in the view.  The trees are already shedding their leaves.

 

We then cycled 12 kilometres back to the boat.  The first half was a long steady climb, but then it was all down hill.  It was a nice temperature and we had battery power left, after our very enjoyable 65 kilometre ride.

Tuesday 3rd September.  As I have already suggested, and as we found last year, with the official arrival of Autumn there seems to be a dramatic change in the weather.  Today it was quite cool when we got up (I have had to get out my long sleeved tops and trousers), but the sky was a beautiful cloudless blue.  We wanted to get away early (to go a further 9.5 kilometres upstream, through three locks to Valence-sur-Baïse).  We managed that just before 9 am beating another couple of boats we expected would also be going upstream today.  The setting was idyllic as we headed out of Condom up the river (the fisherman was already in his spot).

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Very soon we reached the first lock. The doors were open but I preferred to get off at the pontoon.  Dave brought La Caunette in and threw up the back rope, but the rope came off the cleat on the boat.  He managed to fix that and then passed up the front rope with the boat hook, for me to hold the boat steady as the lock filled up.  All went well with that and it was interesting to see the sun shining through dust stirred up by two men using weed eaters to tidy up the area around the lock.

The river was very wide when we came out of the lock (the widest we have seen it) and we proceeded without any problems at all.  The reflections were amazing.

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The next lock we came to was a double lock.  There was a fisherman perched at the entrance – he looked very relaxed and shouted out a loud bonjour.

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Dave had to sound the horn to alert the lock keeper of our arrival (that’s what the sign with a dot in the middle signifies) – the lock is still operated manually but manned by staff of the General Council of Gers (which is responsible for the maintenance of the river as far as Moncrabeau).  Luckily they do all the hard work (i.e. they have to physically turn handles to open and close the sluice and lock gates).  Two men quickly appeared and soon the gates were open. We passed the ropes up to them which they put around bollards and handed back down to us, and then they opened the middle sluice gates – the water gushed in with great force but it was easy to hold La Caunette.

The men then opened the middle gates and we moved into the next lock.  Once again they had to close the gates behind us, take our ropes and put them around the bollards and pass them back down to us, open the front sluice gates and then open the front gates once the lock had filled up.  Everything went very smoothly, despite the speed with which the water entered the lock.

The river was quite narrow when we came out of the lock, but then it widened out.  Dave was relieved to see a log floating by, that he had noticed the day before yesterday (when he had biked up to Valence)  jammed in behind the door of the next lock (he had tried to tell the lock keeper at the double lock but Dave thought he was disinterested – or maybe he didn’t understand despite a very good photo of the “log jam”).

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We noticed that there were lots and lots of vapour trails from jets, in the sky (as you can see also in some of the other photos).

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We went past an interesting looking disused mill.  Dave wondered aloud about where the water would enter and exit to turn wheels.

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The next lock was closed so I had to get off on the landing platoon – it was quite high so I ended up getting onto it by sitting on it from the boat – not very elegant but it worked.  It took some time for Dave to be satisfied that La Caunette was tied up okay and that he had enough fenders in place to protect the windows and hull of the boat.

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I then went up to the lock and inserted the card for the lock to open – it was 3.3 metres deep so quite a way up from the boat (but much better going up the steps than the ladder in the lock).

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Dave came in, and just as he was getting ropes up to me another boat arrived.  I wanted to move our boat forward so they could share the lock with us, but Dave wasn’t having a bar of that – he signalled to them they couldn’t come in (they didn’t seem to mind).  As it turned out the lock filled quite gently and there would have been room but during this time I could see a hire boat arrive from upstream – they were having real difficulty holding their boat against their landing pontoon and at one stage their boat was on the opposite side of the river – fortunately for them, the river was narrow at that point and they still had hold of their ropes that were long enough for them to hold onto and pull their boat back in. However, as the river was so narrow, once out of the lock Dave needed to use all his skill and could only just squeeze past (I had to push us off from the other boat a few times as we passed by).

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Soon we arrived at the Valence-sur-Baïse port.  We tied up, Dave got our bikes off, then we had lunch and a short nap.

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We then cycled the short distance to the Abbaye de Flaran (Abbey of Flaran).  The abbey, dating from the 12thcentury, claims to be the best preserved Cistercian building in the whole region.  The entrance is quite spectacular.

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Taken over by the Gers Department, it houses the departments heritage conservatorium and offers a varied cultural programme to visitors. It holds numerous art exhibitions. 

The first one we looked at, detailed the extensive works that had been undertaken to restore the Gallo-Romana villa at Séviac (the one we didn’t get to visit the other day).  This 4th century Roman villa was an enormous palace boasting sumptuous mosaics and vast thermal baths.  This luxurious wine-growing estate dominated the territory of Elusa (Eauze), capital city of the Roman province of NovempopulaniaThe exhibition wetted our appetite to visit the villa if we are back in this area next year.

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In the huge church there was an exhibition of paintings by Jean-Paul Chambas.  This was a perfect setting for his large and quite dramatic paintings.

On the first floor, in the area that was once the monks’ quarters there is the permanent Simonow exhibition   This was quite spectacular and we were amazed to see original works from some very well-known artists (Picasso, Soutine, Monet, Renoir, Salvador Dali, Rodin – to name a few).

In the cellar there is a permanent exhibition about the pilgrim route to Saint-Jacques de Compstelle, composed of polychrome statues). 

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In the chapter room (a large room with nine vaults and four columns of coloured marble, where the monks assembled sitting on wooden benches and lay brothers remained outside but nonetheless followed proceedings through the open arches)

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there was a fascinating exhibition by Jephan de Villiers. This included an intriguing display of insects made from leaves, twigs and other vegetation (which I am sure our younger grand children would be very interested in).

The cloisters in the centre of the complex are quite plain – part of it was destroyed during the Hundred Years War – but some of the original columns remain.

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There is also a large grassed area and vegetable garden, complete with an attractive pigeonnier.

There is heaps more I could write about – suffice to say we left feeling very impressed by the work that has been done to renovate and preserve the abbey and to make such wonderful works of art is accessible to the public.  At only €5 each, we thought it was great value.

Back on the boat we cracked open a bottle of bubbly to celebrate reaching the end of the navigable stretch of the Baïse. I am really pleased we decided to check out the river conditions and make it this far.  It’s been well worth it.

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We then pottered around before Dave cooked dinner.  After dinner, while he was sitting at the back of the boat, watching the world go by, he was entertained for a short time by a juggler – you never know what you will see!

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Wednesday 4th September.  We woke to another very cool morning, but once again the sky was blue and cloudless with the promise of another sunny day

I had some work that I needed to get done without interruption this morning, so Dave was more than happy to go off for a bike ride (he accepts he won’t reach the same nearly 5,000 kilometres he did last year but I think he is hoping to cover a lot more before we leave).

I had a productive morning and completed what I needed to do. Dave came back enthusiastic about what he had seen. He is now talking about how wonderful this area is, how he could see the Pyrénées and how perfect it would be to have a motor bike here ….

Highlights of his trip this morning included a ride around the remaining fortifications of Valence-sur-Baïse (also visible from our boat).  Looking out over the Baïse from a steep cliff, Valence is a bastide, established during the 12th and 13th centuries, by Cistecian monks

He was interested to see a huge paddock of chickens, free ranging.  They seemed to have a bit more than a small dirt patch to scratch around in.

He stopped to warn some traffic of a fallen tree that people would not see as they rounded a corner.  This included a tractor towing a trailer laden with tobacco leaves.

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He saw several castles dotted across the landscape.

He enjoyed riding up and down hills in the beautiful rolling countryside.

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He saw a large solar farm and also noticed a lot of the area is planted in millet.

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He also spotted some grapes growing in the bush or goblet style – something we haven’t seen since we left the Minervois district last year.

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I had intended to go for a bike ride in the afternoon but by the time we had lingered over lunch it was nearly 2 pm and it was getting quite hot (29°C) so I reneged on that – after not having done much reading in the last few weeks, I have now started reading (and got hooked into) Janet Macleod Trotter’s four-book India Tea Series.  I also wanted to write up the blog for the last few days.

Early evening Dave was back with a present for ‘me’.  I wonder who will end up drinking it given I don’t really like brandy/Armagnac.

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Dave had bought the Armagnac at the Château de Cassaigne. The castle was built in the 13th century in a strategic position by Montassin de Goalard, the then abbot of Condom, and underwent many transformations and change of ownership over the centuries. 

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A number of rooms are open to the public, including the kitchen and the cellar used for the aging of Armagnac.  There is also a museum of ancient wine tools.  It is set in park like grounds and is surrounded by vineyards (that grow the grapes used in the production of Armagnac). Dave turned down the opportunity to taste some Armagnac (he wasn’t sure if it was free or not).

He was interested to learn more about how Armagnac is produced.

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He then went on to villages of Mouchan and Mansencome– more interesting churches and buildings.

I had dinner cooked by the time he got back to the boat, which we enjoyed as the sun set on another busy and satisfying day.

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Tomorrow we will start our journey back down the Baïse, so I will sign off this post now.

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