This post covers the time we spent on the river Tarn– our last stop this year before La Caunette comes out of the water at Castelsarrasin.
From the Middle Ages the Tarn and its tributaries, the Aveyron and the Agout were used to ship the riches of the south west region towards the Garonne and Bordeaux. Navigation conditions were improved from the end of the 18th century with the installation of chamber locks, and by the middle of the 19th century, the river was officially navigable for a distance of 147 kilometres, with 30 locks making up for a difference in height of 75 metres. Small wooden barges left villages along the river loaded with flour, coal from the mines at Carmaux, barrels of Gaillac wine and cloth from Castres. As a result of competition from the new railways, navigation declined rapidly from 1870, before coming to a complete halt in the 1920s.
We can go approximately eight kilometres upstream and four kilometres downstream in what is known as the Moissac pond.
Saturday 14th September (continued). As we moored up, Mike and Gloria waved out to us, and then came over and saw us. Jim also told me that he had some mail for me – my new Westpac MasterCard – yeah.
We didn’t have long to wait before the tourist boat came up through the locks. Mike and Gloria came on board for the ride down to the Tarn (where their barge GEM is moored).
There is a lock keeper at this double lock, and Mike kindly got off and helped with the ropes – everything went smoothly with going through the locks.
We had quite an audience (and that’s not Dave’s hair sticking out – it’s grass in the planter on the bridge).
Jim had told us we could either moor on the pontoons (he puts them out in summer) or on the wharf. Dave wanted me to make the decision, but I found that hard – and as Gloria was interested in seeing the pontoons we decided to go and have a look at them first. They looked quite good and are locked off by a gate which makes them very secure. However, the wharf also looked good, and that is where we decided to moor. GEM and Cochon Noir were already moored there.
Mike and Gloria went back to GEM and we had a late lunch. Dave busied himself with washing down the boat and then setting up the gazebo. I was lazier as my knee was a bit sore and I was also feeling a bit off colour – it had been quite a long day. We both had a nap and then I finished off the last blog post.
Dave heard a bit of noise outside and saw that there was a bride and groom coming along the quay with two photographers. The bride didn’t seem to mind that her long veil was drifting along the ground. When they got to the Cochon Noir (just in front of us) they climbed on board for some more photos. Elaine (co-owner of Cochon Noir with husband Clive – we met them at Meilhan-sur-Garonne) came out to see what the noise was and indicated it was okay for them to continue the photo shoot.
Dave spoke to an elderly couple who own the big barge (Gulliver) moored behind us. They previously owned the Wide Beam Hancock & Lane (Largo) we have seen at Castelsarrasin. They were keen to have a look at how La Caunette has been refitted. They said they really miss the three easily accessed outside areas.
We then pottered around until dinner time. Gloria came by to give me a copy of the programme for a festival that is taking place in Moissac next weekend.
We ate dinner on the back of the boat, as the sun was setting – it was very pretty – the photo doesn’t really capture how red the sky and reflections were.
Not long after dinner, the full moon came up. Dave went to make sure Gloria knew (as she loves the full moon). Because of a row of trees she couldn’t see it from GEM and was surprised when she came about 30 metres back to our boat and could see it. But soon it was high enough in the sky so she could see it from their boat. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a very good photo of it.
Just as we were packing up and getting ready to come inside, Mike came by to say he had seen a mouse running along the quay. Dave had also seen it – he said it had gone past our boat – however, I heard him mention there’s been a rat on the boat – Barbara doesn’t know about that. Of course I had to ask him more about that – he reckoned he had seen some droppings. I haven’t seen any sign of them or a rat – fingers crossed there isn’t one!
Sunday 15th September. Dave was up before sunrise this morning. He heard noises in the park on the riverbank, and went to explore. He discovered that people were setting up a huge vide grenier (flea market).
He also took some great shots of the moon.
As the sun started to come up, the sky started turning blue and the (full) moon was casting a beautiful reflection in the mirror like surface of the river. I was awake by then and must admit I could hardly complain about the view from our bedroom.
I had an enjoyable video call to my elder son (albeit he was feeling the worse for wear after having celebrated one of his mate’s 40th birthday in Wellington the previous night). My two-year old grand daughter was very chatty – poor Kate (my daughter-in-law) was busy cleaning up a mess made when their new combined washing machine and dryer had leaked.
After breakfast we went and had a look at the vide grenier. It was very busy and there was allsorts of ‘junk’ for sale.
On his earlier visit, Dave had seen a large glass he thought would be ideal for keeping our ‘spent’ wine bottle corks in. It was still for sale and when we enquired about how much it was we were told it was €10 for the four vases (and the things in them). We therefore bought them and took them back to the boat.
We then went up to the port and saw Jim, on his way to help Gulliver tie up. We handed him back the keys to the pontoons, as we have decided to stay on the quay.
After that, we carried on up to the village centre where there was the weekly Sunday market taking place. In the first half there was stall after stall of clothing and general bric-à-brac (a couple fo stalls were like €1 shops).
The other half was a more traditional farmers’ market. We stocked up on fruit and vegetables.
We also had a look around the covered market, where I bought a baguette and some pastries. I still love the displays on the fish stalls and marvel at the huge cheese, dishes of cooked potatoes etc.
I managed to ‘activate’ my new credit card, and then we sat and enjoyed a coffee (and the pain aux raisins we had bought at the market) on the edge of the market.
The same little dog (that lives at the bar) that we had seen earlier in the year, came and joined us.
Once back on the boat, I washed the vases we had bought, and they came up well. We dumped the artificial flowers but Dave kept the silica gel – he wants to make an air breather for the diesel tank– what a clever chappie he is.
We then set off for a short jaunt up the river – it is navigable for 8.5 kilometres. We left the port just before GEM (Gloria and Mike had guests on board and they were taking them up the river where they planned to anchor and have lunch).
It was a lovely sunny and warm day – perfect for a river cruise. The river is wide and the water is clean.
We went under three bridges, the canal bridge, a railway bridge and a car bridge.
About two-thirds of the way along, the Château de Saint-Paul came into view, sitting proudly on top of a hill, overlooking the river – what a magic sight it was.
The castle was built towards the end of the 15th century, for Jean de Tubières, lieutenant of the seneschal of Quercy, by order of the Parliament of Toulouse of 1487 (to replace a previous castle on the site that had been razed by the lieutenant). Additions and alterations were made in the 17th and 18th centuries. The towers were partly demolished in 1793, then rebuilt. Jean de Tubières later passed the castle on to the family of Del Peré de Saint-Paul, who remained its owner until the 19th century. It is now privately owned, and is not open to the public.
We carried on as far as the weir and an old lock (just visible on the right)
GEM had arrived and anchored up, but Dave wasn’t keen on using the anchor (as it is very heavy to get off and on the boat). We also wanted to give GEM some space so we went back to where the river was wider, and Dave set La Caunette to just drift. The tourist boat that was also following us went by, on its return back downstream, and gave us a big toot and lots of people waved.
Once the boat had passed by, Dave turned off the engine. The combination of the breeze and river current meant we stayed more or less in the same place. I made us a filled baguette which we enjoyed with a glass of beer.
I was keen to go swimming but it would have been hard to get back on the boat without a swim ladder, so we contented ourselves with dangling our feet in the water.
Before we knew it, we had been there an hour and a half. We decided to make our way slowly back to our mooring.
As we cruised back downstream, among other things we saw a parachutist, a family having a picnic, several fisherman, orchard after orchard of apple trees and kiwi fruit and a group of egrets resting on branches in the river.
While on the wide river with virtually no other baots – Dave took the opportunity to test driving from inside. The steering worked okay but the gears wouldn’t engage – something for him to look at another day. He was also keen to see how small a circle we can turn. After several clockwise, then anticlockwise turns he was satisfied La Caunette pivots on a spot about two metres out from her side, about a third of the way towards the stern.
We passed by a Base militaire (génie) (Military Base – Engineering). It looked well equipped. A parachute regiment is also located nearby and behind the Military Base is a small airfield.
After we had gone under the road bridge, for a short time it looked like the rail bridge sat on top of the canal bridge.
As we had approached the bridges we saw two men on a runabout fishing by the pillars of the car bridge. We also saw a couple getting into a runabout on the shore. Soon both boats roared past us at speed, creating big waves with their wash. It was like being back on the Rhône! Dave was worried that things would fall out of the cupboard, but nothing did.
As we got closer to Moissac we saw more people enjoying the water – water skiers, paddle boarders, peddle boaters, swimmers – it was a perfect day to enjoy the magnificent river.
As we came into our mooring, and passed by the pontoons, we thought Richard and Kathy (on Rangimãrie) were moored there. We were a bit embarrassed, as we must have snubbed them last night when we did our circuit to check out whether to moor on the pontoons or quay. I sent Kathy a quick message to apologise – as it turned out it wasn’t them – they are in Castelsarrasin.
The boat felt like an oven when we got back, so we quickly pulled the blinds down to block out the sun, and set up the air conditioning unit. By now it was late afternoon, beer o’clock time as Dave calls it, so we relaxed and enjoyed a drink. A bit later on GEM arrived back and Mike and Gloria came to say hi and see how we had enjoyed our day – we all agreed it had been a wonderful experience going up the Tarn and Dave and I are keen to spend more time on it next year.
After dinner Dave tried out one of my hair ties to see how he would suit his hair in a pony tail. Given the comments on Facebook, when I posted the picture, it seems the suggestion is that he would be better thinking about getting his hair cut.
Just as the sun was setting we were treated to a wonderful view of a hang glider sailing through the twilight.
Monday 16th September. The first thing we wanted to do today was to cycle to Castelsarrasin to speak to Christophe at the Chantier Fluvial Castelsarrasin, to confirm lift out for La Caunette on Wednesday. We enjoyed riding back over this familiar cycleway alongside the canal. I stopped on the canal bridge to take a photo of where we had been on the Tarn yesterday.
Dave stopped to talk to a black cat and look at a tent that was set up under a tree.
There were lots of people out walking, on their own or with dogs, and cycling. It was a lovely still warm morning.
We also stopped to watch a woman go through one of the locks – it looked like she was travelling solo as she tied up the ropes, pressed the button etc herself –– as the yacht came up in the lock we saw there was a man on board – I guess he must be disabled or unwell – regardless, she seemed very relaxed and competent. Dave also noted that as she was at the back of the lock she had very little current to deal with.
We carried on, refamiliarising ourselves with this last stretch of the canal and locks that we will need to go along tomorrow. We arrived in good time and discovered that Christophe was actually expecting La Caunette to be lifted out tomorrow – as always he was very relaxed about changing that to Wednesday afternoon.
We then went and talked to Richard and Kathy who have Rangimãrie out on dry dock. They have been doing a lot of work refitting the boat inside (toilet, bathroom and kitchen), fixing the sliding roof sections and dealing with (to quote Richard) “nasty osmosis” they discovered on the hull when the boat came out of the water (it looked a mess). He is doing a good job of fixing things up and we agreed to catch up later in the week, rather than take up any more of his time now – he still has a lot to do before Rangimãrie goes back into the water on Wednesday. Kathy returned from a trip to the supermarket, just as we were leaving. She has got quite behind on writing up her PhD thesis and work she does via video calls but is keen to celebrate Rangimãrie’s splashing in – so we agreed to have dinner together on Wednesday.
Dave was keen to go and see who was in the port and catch up with them – I suggested we head back to Moissac – we will be in Castelsarrasin tomorrow, and Mike had agreed to take Dave to exchange the gas bottle, and get more diesel.
We stopped at the supermarket on the way back, buying among things, a small pack of sushi which we stopped and ate on a bench next to the canal.
As we arrived back on the Tarn, Mike came out of GEM to ask if Dave had a spanner he could borrow. I’m not sure what the outcome of that discussion was but I set about unpacking the shopping and getting some things ready for lunch tomorrow – Mike and Gloria are going to come on board and go with us down the Tarn. We’re hoping we can moor up – I’m keen to make them a nice lunch to repay their generosity and wonderful hospitality when we went with them to Bordeaux.
Dave went off with Mike to exchange the gas bottle and get the diesel. As seems to always happen to Dave, neither of the two credit cards he had worked in the machine for the diesel – so Mike put them on his card and Dave reimbursed him in cash. He had more luck with the gas, but apparently there was still a bit of a fuss as he had to sign the receipt.
Once Dave had put all the diesel into the tank, he set about attaching a ladder to the back of the boat – so we can get out of the water if/when we going swimming off the side of the boat – he tested it out and it seemed to work well.
Tuesday 17th September. Today was our last full day with La Caunette in the water and we had arranged to spend it with Gloria and Mike going downstream as far as we could on the Tarn.
It was a beautiful autumn day – quite cool when we first got up, but the sky was a clear deep blue and it was forecast to reach 29°C mid-afternoon – perfect weather for a river cruise. I got some things organised for lunch, while Dave went off and bought a couple of baguettes and settled our account with Jim at the Moissac port office. He also moved our bikes onto GEM so they would be more secure than leaving them on the quay (we wanted to allow more space on the back of our boat – to comfortably cater for the four of us at lunch time).
We set off and went through an unusual looking open lock – there is a submerged weir that runs from it to the other side of the river. The lock sits next to the building that was originally a flour mill (where, as I mentioned in an earlier post, Jewish children were hidden during World War II). It is now a restaurant and hotel.
We carried on under the impressive Napoléan road bridge (a vaulted masonary arch bridge that was commissioned by Napoléan and built between 1812 until 1829)
The river was wide and the reflections were lovely.
After we had been travelling for about five kilometres we rounded a bend and the blue suspension bridge (the limit of how far we could go) came into sight. Steam from the two cooling towers at the Golfech nuclear power station could be seen a bit further on.
We weren’t quite sure where we could moor, or how deep the river was, so Dave did a bit of a tiki tour around the edge towards an artificial beach and boat ramp. There was a lot of duck weed and I spotted a fishing rod – Dave drove over to it and I managed to retrieve it (I’m not sure what it will be used for).
This area is also the confluence of the Tarn and the Garonne – it is a huge expanse of water.
Rather than drifting in this area (which would have been quite easy and safe but in full sun) we decided to make for the shade on the other side of the river. As Dave manoeuvred towards the shore, I managed to throw up a rope and loop it around a tree. The ‘boys’ tested the water depth – it was several metres – so Dave turned off the engine and secured the front rope.
We enjoyed a drink before I got lunch together. I experimented with some recipes I have been wanting to make for ages, and which I was pretty sure Gloria and Mike would enjoy. For the first course I made a Salad of mixed heirloom tomatoes, figs and mozzarella with fresh mint. I had got the recipe in a little booklet I picked up at the Marmande fête (Marmande tomato festival). It was very colourful and really showcased local produce.
As I was about to sit down, someone bumped the table (Dave blames me but he is the only person who suggested it wasn’t him) and knocked the pepper mill overboard. Mike quickly sprung into action and rescued it – surprisingly it floated and no water got into it.
Next course was a Tomato and goat’s cheese tart with rice and seed crust with a mixed green salad. It turned out really well and I am sure I will make it again.
For the last course, I used another recipe from the Marmande fête recipe booklet ‘Fromage blanc aux kiwis’. I used Zespri gold – I prefer green but they were all rock hard and I didn’t have time to ripen them. That also went down a treat.
As we were having lunch a group of people came paddling out and up the river on Canadian style canoes.
We had taken our time over lunch, and lingered some more before Gloria and I decided to go for a swim. Mike pumped up an air ring for Gloria (with Dave’s help on a pedestal bike pump).
Gloria jumped in.
I had suggested that I could use the life buoy as a float, but Dave didn’t want to get it wet (it is still in its plastic wrapping), so after I’d jumped in Mike threw me a fender to use as a float.
Apart from a little bit of duck weed, the water was very clean and the temperature perfect. We enjoyed floating around and chatting. After a bit the boys called out to make sure we knew how far we were drifting away – we hadn’t but it didn’t matter as we are both good swimmers – nevertheless we headed back to the boat and used the ladder Dave had put in place to get out.
Once Gloria and I were back on board and dried off, we headed back to Moissac. The water was like glass.
Among other things we passed an interesting building – shaped like a pigeonnier but I think it was too big to be one.
A man and boy passed us on a runabout. The wash of their boat made an interesting pattern.
We went back under the Napoléan bridge, through the open lock and moored up at the wharf. It was early evening by the time Gloria and Mike left. We weren’t hungry so just had a snack for supper and quiet evening.
It had been a fabulous day – an ideal way to finish our 2019 cruising season.
Tomorrow we will complete the final stage of our 2019 sojourn in France. In my next blog I will cover our short trip to Castelsarrasin and our time getting La Caunette ready for her winter’s rest in the boat yard.