5. Making our way slowly downstream

This post covers our movements further downstream and things we have seen and done along the way, and while moored next to two small villages, Pommevic and Goflech.

As I’ve already explained a few times how the locking process works, and we’ve now got a good system for managing locks, I won’t go into detail about each lock. Instead I’ll just cover anything ‘extraordinaire’ that I think might be of interest to you and post photos of the lock houses (which I love) and other interesting things we see

Moissac to Pommevic 

After six nights in Moissac we decided to move a short distance (13 kilometres and three locks) further downstream to a mooring next to the small village of Pommevic.

A number of people we know came out to wish us bon voyage as we left our mooring. A short distance after leaving the port we had to go through the Saint-Jacques swing bridge (Le pont du Saint-Jacques). The bridge was built in the mid 19th century when the Canal Latéral à la Garonne was dug as an extension to the Canal du Midi (which was created by Pierre-Paul Riquet in the 17th century).

Despite tooting the horn a couple of times we had to wait a few minutes for the ‘bridge-keeper’ to open it. Although we’d passed through twice in 2019, Dave was still a bit worried about whether we would fit through, but we had ample room to spare.

Once through the bridge, the views of Moissac became more industrial and less attractive. We also noticed quite a bit of weed in the canal. This, however, may have been churned up by the luxury hotel barge St Louis which we passed just outside of Moissac.

We approached, entered, descended and exited the first lock without a hitch.

Having turned the rope for the next lock, we had to wait a good 10 minutes before the gates opened and we got a green light to enter. There was an éclusier (lock keeper) at the lock so maybe he was fixing a problem. It was not an easy place for Dave to hold the boat as it was on a bend and there was quite a current coming back from the lock as it filled.

After a few minutes, Dave decided to reverse back and heard an awful noise coming from the back of the boat. He drove forward and the problem seemed to clear – he had a quick look and realised that he had forgotten to remove the (motorbike) tyre he typically ties to the duck tail (to prevent the boat hitting the wharf). It seems the rope holding the tyre in place had been burnt by the exhaust, and when Dave reversed the tyre came loose and went into the propeller. He retrieved what was left of the rope but there was no sign of the tyre.

Hopefully what was left of it sank and won’t cause any bother to anyone else. Thankfully also, the engine seemed to be running smoothly again. Had that not been the case, apart from needing to do repairs, it would have been impossible to tie up – there was no landing and the sides of the canal were very overgrown and impossible to step off on to. Anyway, once the lock doors opened Dave drove in and we went down and out, without any further ado.

We then motored along without incident a few kilometres to our third lock. The Bordeaux to Toulouse rail track runs alongside the canal, so trains race by at regular intervals. At one stage we went by a huge water treatment plant. We could also see a large lake that has been created by damming the Garonne to feed the nearby nuclear power station (more on that later). We passed by several fishermen, most of whom were very well set up. We then moved into a stretch of the canal was tree lined and very attractive. Just as we approached the next lock we passed by a big grain silo that has a bay for barges to moor at to be loaded. 

All went well with entering the lock, but as we were getting the ropes in place, Dave noticed another boat approaching. We waited for them and completed the locking through without any hassle, which was lucky as we had a bit of an audience.

We were planning on stopping just a couple of hundred metres along the canal at a small landing that can really only take three boats maximum. However, as we approached the mooring spot, we could see it was already fully occupied by a boat about the same size as ours and a huge barge, called Matilda. But no worries (mate), the Aussie owner, Bruce, of Matilda offered to have us raft (tie up) next to him. We accepted the offer but it took a bit of manoeuvring to get La Caunette in place. At one stage her stern went out across the canal, blocking the way of the boat that had shared the lock with us. Those on board were French and obviously very annoyed about this, as they yelled out obscenities and gave filthy looks as they passed by.

After a few drinks and more games of Bones, I cooked Dave his favourite duck meal that night. In 2018 and 2019, duck has been very cheap but prices have almost tripled . However, we had managed to get a duck breast at Lidl at a good price.

After dinner Bruce invited the Dutch couple (Jaan and Leda) on the other boat (Lycka) for drinks, which we were able to join in to from the flybridge of La Caunette. Over drinks we learnt that there are a few wiring issues with Matilda and Bruce was keen to elicit Dave’s help. However, Dave didn’t want to have a bar of that, especially after he learnt that the power socket had melted onto the outlet – suggesting there was indeed some significant issues that really needed the attention of someone with all the tools etc. As it turned out, Bruce had someone organised already and he left the next morning so the electrician could get on his boat. 

Once Matilda had left, we moved into a spot at the front of the landing. This was a lovely shaded landing that is next to a small town called Pommevic. Mooring, including power and water is provided free by the town in the expectation we will patronise local shops etc. 

Pommevic is a small rural village of around 550 inhabitants (called the Pommevicois or Pommevicoises). Discovery of a Gallo-Roman establishment in the area attests to its ancient history. Its name comes from the Latin pomarium vicus and means ‘village of apple trees’. During the Middle Ages, it was the seat of one of the most important priory of the abbey of Moissac. Today most of the surrounding land is used for orchards and other forms of agriculture.

The only drawback of being under trees is that they drop seeds that stain the paintwork The carpet helps protect a lot of the boat but the front is still quite exposed, so most mornings Dave got up early to brushing down La Caunette. If the little black seeds are not brushed off any bit of moisture creates a rust looking stain which is nearly impossible to rub off

You are only meant to stay two days/three nights and we were okay with that. However, we were still waiting for a parcel with bimini parts to arrive at Castelsarrasin and we were now at the (bike) limits. We therefore went and saw the Mairie office (i.e. local council office) to seek permission to stay another day or two. This was agreed to with no problem. As Lycka had moved off and we were the only boat on the mooring and so there was space for another one or two boats.

Pommevic to Goflech

While we could have stayed even longer at Pommevic, we were keen to move further downstream. This time we moved just 7.5 kilometres and two locks downstream to a mooring next to the village of Golfech.

Just as we were leaving our mooring at Pommevic, Dave noticed a huge barge coming out of the upstream lock. It was difficult at first to see if she planned to moor up at Pommevic (or we thought it could be Bruce returning on Matilda). But it soon became apparent she was heading towards the same lock as we were. Given the boat’s size (‘might is right’), we decided to pull over to the lock landing and let her go through first. The barge was huge and those on board were appreciative of our letting them go ahead. Dave walked down to the lock to watch the barge go through. There wasn’t much room to spare.

As the barge was exiting the lock, Dave noticed there was a small yacht waiting to come up. He therefore wandered back to La Caunette and we waited for the yacht to lock through. We had a green light to enter and so we cast off and went on into and through the lock smoothly.

We had no problems with the next lock, albeit we had an audience of a gentleman and two small children he was explaining things to.

It was a few kilometres before we moored up at Golfech in a nice shaded spot. Golfech is a small rural/agricultural based municipality with a population of about 1,500. 

La centrale nucléaire de Golfech (Golfech Nuclear Power Plant – see more information below on the plant), located in the western part of the town, dominates the landscape.

The first documents relating to Golfech do not date back beyond the year 1200 when the Order of the Temple came to settle in Golfech and brought considerable wealth to the area. In 1312 this order was suppressed and all its property devolved to the l’ordre de Saint-Jean de Jérusalem (Order of Saint John of Jersualem). The town suffered during the ‘Religious Wars’ of the mid to late 16th century and there do not seem to be any interesting remains of the old buildings left. Golfech has always been prone to being flooded by the neighbouring Garonne river. The most disastrous floods were those of June 1875, then those of 1930 and 1952 which also caused very significant damage.

Tour de France

One of the highlights of the last 10 days was the opportunity to see the Tour de France pass through Valence d’Agen (only a three kilometre bicycle ride from where we were moored at Pommevic). The riders passed through Valence d’Agen on Stage 19 of this year’s event (starting in Castelnau-Magnoac and finishing 188.3 kilometres later in Cahors).

You are probably familiar with the Tour de France, but in case you’re not (and I’m happy to be corrected if I get any of the details wrong!) ….The Tour de France is an annual bicycle race that has taken place in France (and sometimes neighbouring countries) since 1903. It covers more than 3,200 kilometres in 21 stages over 23 days (nine flat stages, three hilly stages, seven mountain stages including five summit finishes, two individual time trials and two rest days). It is known for its difficulty and is generally considered the most famous and most prestigious cycling competition in the world. Cyclists from around the world, including New Zealand, compete for the chance to win the prestigious Tour de France trophy and a cash prize of €450,000 (around $NZ750,000). It attracts 3.5 billion television viewers, and over 12 million spectators annually. It is completely free to attend – spectators just line the streets within arm’s reach of the riders. 

A big surprise for me was that the event is opened by la Caravane pulicitaire (publicity parade). Two hours before the riders pass through, Tour de France and its partners put on a show/parade of vehicles and floats that lasts for more than 30 minutes. There are more than 30 ‘partners’ and they all hand out (or more accurately throw) promotional gifts. 

The vehicles sped by at an alarming rate (some doing wheelies as they rounded the bend at the bottom of the road where we were standing and everyone on the back of the vehicles were wearing harnesses). It really was quite spectacular and fun. I took heaps of photos so the ones below are just a tiny selection of the vehicles taking part. 

We scored very well with the promotional gifts (t-shirt, hats, bags, key rings, sweets, pencils, frisbees, packets of sweets, etc etc) – maybe because we were holding out our flag.

Then again there wasn’t a huge number of spectators where we were. A local couple, who I will mention in more detail below, also befriended us and passed on quite a few items to us.

Riders are very strategic, and don’t cycle as fast as they can throughout the race. They tend to cycle in a main group called a peloton (French for group), and have smaller groups break away to the front at almost every stage. The peloton allows cyclists to stay ahead for a few minutes before re-joining them when they have lost momentum. 

As the cyclists raced through Valence d’Agen there were just three in the break away group. In between the break away group and the peloton there was a mass of motorbikes and service vehicles, so I’m not sure how the break away riders re-join the peloton or vice versa (although I have no doubt that is well managed!).

Then the peloton raced through. It only took a minute or so for the riders to pass through and then the event was over.

More interesting …..

Architecture and buildings

We continue to be intrigued by the age and design of many of the buildings we see. Even though we visited these towns in 2019, we still enjoy seeing them. Here’s a taste of buildings that have held our interest.

In the centre of Valence d’Agen there is a large covered market area, bordered by half-timbered houses and ambans (covered, galleries). The adjacent streets are also picturesque. There are two other squares, one of which has two fountains.

On one of our bike rides, we stopped at the mediaeval village of Auvillar (see below) that sits on the edge of the Garonne river. Since 1994, the village has been voted one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (most beautiful villages of France). Les Plus Beaux Villages de France is an independent association created in 1982 for the promotion of tourism of small rural villages with a rich cultural heritage. Membership requires meeting certain selection criteria – the three initial ones are the rural nature of the village (a population of less than 2,000 inhabitants), the presence of at least two national heritage sites and local support in the form of a vote by the council. Each village has to pay an annual fee and the mayor has to sign a guarantee that they will meet the association’s quality standards. 

During centuries of conflict, the village castle and walls were destroyed, but the village still has some spectacular buildings. These include a clock tower/portico, ancient timber-framed arcade houses, ambans and tiled streets. Taking pride of place in the centre of the town square (actually it’s a triangle) is a historic halle (grain market) where the weekly markets are now held. Built in the early 19th century, this circular building has since been restored several times and was classified as a historical monument in 1946. 

Not far away is a panoramic lookout ,complete with a viewpoint indicator located on the site of the old castle, offering a beautiful view of the Garonne and its valley.

Churches

As is typical of the small towns and villages, we see at least one, if not several, magnificent churches. In the centre of Valence d’Agen there is the catholic neo-renaissance church of Notre Dame. It has a very elaborate spire and sits next to a long avenue shaded by tree and decorated with fountains. The current church dates from 1902, replacing the old derelict church that was located on a rampart. Another unique feature is a stucco grotto with a small replica of the sculpture depicting the Virgin Mary facing the Notre Dame Cathedral in Lourdes.

The catholic L’Église Saint-Denis in Pommevic is classed as an Historic Monument. The building was consecrated in 1052 but currently consists of elements from the 11th, 14th and 16th centuries. The oldest parts that remain include the southern wall, the choir with its vaulted apse and the base of the bell tower. The square bell tower was fortified during the Wars of Religion in the 14th century and the church was enlarged in the 16th century.

The church at Gourdouville also looked interesting but it was closed so we could not go inside.

The same was the case with the church at Golfech. Interestingly, it has a weather barometer on its spire.

Pigeonniers

I have mentioned my interest in pigeonniers (dovecotes) in previous posts –  I love the different styles and they are a common sight in countryside here – in open fields, near farm buildings or a castle, sometimes even in towns and villages.

In antiquity the pigeon was considered a bird protected by the gods, and was therefore worshipped and protected. However, from the 16th century onwards pigeons were bred for more economical purposes. The thousands of birds that used to live in pigeonniers helped feed the local people and the pigeons guano (droppings also called colombine) supplied fertiliser necessary for the intense farming carried out here. The quantity supplied by the pigeon-house was often noted on marriage contracts or wills. In the north of France, only the lords had the right to own pigeonniers. In the south of France, a more liberal part of the country, everyone had the right to own one. Their dimensions depended on the area of the owners’ land and their varied styles suggests that there weren’t too many rules and regulations about their design – round or square, standing alone or attached to buildings. 

In Valence d’Agen, there is a half-timbered dovecote on pillars. This dovecote, which was originally in the countryside, was rebuilt and fitted out on Place du Colombier in 1990. 

On one of our bike rides (to see the Gourdouville château), we took a small side trip to look at the remains of an ancient windmill, perched on the top of the hill overlooking the valley below. It is uncertain what was milled or why it is known as le Moulin à Poivre (pepper mill). It’s blades and working mechanisms were removed at the beginning of the last century (as they were in poor condition) to make a dovecote. 

Another pigeonnier close to Pommevic is the Pigeonnier de Roques. This octagonal dovecote, built around 1700, is covered with a pavilion roof with dormer windows and is distinguished by its beautiful freestone arcades, its vaulted gallery, and its fairly well-preserved putlog frame (short horizontal pole projecting from the walls, on which scaffold floorboards rest).

We have seen a number of other interesting pigeonniers on our recent bike rides.

Works of art

I just love how accessible works by well-known artists are so accessible and woven into everyday life here. For example, there are number of large black sculptures in the centre of Valence d’Agen, by Jean-Louis Toutain, a French sculptor, born in Toulouse in 1948. I’m not sure what they are made of but they are very striking.

When we were in Auvillar, I popped into the magnificent Tourist Centre that looks out over the Garonne valley, to see an exhibition La calligraphie, un art porteur de sens (Calligraphy, an art that conveys meaning) by local artist Bruno Riboulot and Mohamed Salih (Arabic calligraphy). The exhibition retraces the history of calligraphy throughout the world.

As we moved along the canal and cycled along the tow paths I had noticed signs that have a stylised yellow heron and quotes from novelists, poets or philosophers, with themes related to the water, natural environment and heritage of the canal. I had tried finding out a bit more about these on the internet, without success. However, I asked the woman at the Tourist Centre/exhibition, and bingo, I learnt that these sentences have been handwritten by Bruno Riboulot (i.e. one of the artists in the exhibition mentioned above) as part of a tourism partnership (Calligraphies vagabondes – Wandering calligraphy) between Voies Navigables de France (VNF – Waterways of France) and the Tarn-et-Garonne council.

People

While we keep in touch with family, friends and fellow boaters through social media, we haven’t really interacted much face-to-face with fellow boaters (mainly because everyone we know has headed off In different directions). Having said that, while boat activity had been very quiet, in the last week or so, now France is on holiday, we have noticed more boats, especially hire boat. We have also met a lot more French people on boats. Maybe locals bought boats to spend their Covid enforced ‘staycations’ in the same way New Zealanders bought caravans. While we find the French boaters very friendly my limited understanding of the French dialect spoken here (Languedocien), coupled with their typically limited English make communicating a bit difficult. Nevertheless, we have had some great conversations.

One of the most interesting people we have met in the last week or so is a Scots man, nicknamed Mac, who has lived in the area for 30 years. He has been living in Pommevic for about 20 years. He has a rescue four-year old wire haired fox terrier (Harry) who he takes for a walk two times a day in a loop around the canal. This takes him past La Caunette and he always stops for a chat if one of us is outside. We, and especially Dave have had a number of long and interesting discussions with him.

Mac retired early from a career as a chemical engineer at British Gas (he received a very generous redundancy payment when the Thatcher government privatised British Gas). His team developed and created hundreds of patents associated with the conversion of coal into extremely efficient clean gas. Slag (decorative black bricks) and chemicals were produced from the waste and there was no pollution. Even the excess heat was used for steam making for power turbines and food processing. The technology is no longer used in the UK (only China and USA). With the current fuel crisis, compounded by the situations in Ukraine, Man has been approached to resurrect the process. He is not interested and said it would take about four years to build a new plant. However, Dave says watch this space for coal mine reopening!!!

Mac and his wife also support refugees when they arrive in France. Apparently Pommevic was one of the first villages in the South West to receive refugees from Ukraine and Mac was instrumental in this.

I was also interested to hear he owns a 2004 convertible Smartcar. We didn’t see it as he doesn’t use it (he is keeping it stored in his garage as an investment) but I think it would be great to own one.

Mac was a great font of local knowledge. For example he told us the best place to view the Tour de France from, how to seek permission to stay longer at Pommevic, why we were seeing so many microlights, a local vineyard, things to see and do in the area etc.

During our short stay at Pommevic we also got to be on friendly bonjour terms with two young women who walk their big dogs daily. They are often accompanied by a black and white cat (Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get a very good photograph of them all together as Dave distracted the cat).

We also had fun talking to a French couple who befriended us when we went to Valence d’Agen to see the Tour de France. A local man saw us holding out our New Zealand flag.  He was very excited and called his wife over, who spoke a wee bit of English. As it turned out they were friends with one of the founding members of the Hurricanes, Mike Russell. Mike had played for Valence d’Agen at one stage in his career and the couple have stayed with him in New Zealand at Kaiwharawhara (they were amused by how difficult it is for a French person to pronounce that).

We discovered the man’s name was Bernard (when his wife called out to him). They offered for us to leave our bikes at their place (which we declined as they were tied up near a Gendarme’s van so we thought they would be safe). They chatted away to us during the initial parade and very generously gave us most of the promotional gifts they picked up. Once the parade was over they invited us back to their house, but as it was only a short time until the riders were due to came through we decided to walk through the village to have a look at the crowds there.

When the riders came through we were standing at the top of the hill and when we looked down we could see someone flying a New Zealand flag. After the riders had been through we went down and discovered it was Bernard – he is an ardent rugby fan and was so excited to meet us. 

I was a bit annoyed with myself when we got back to the boat that I hadn’t got their full names and address as it would be great to catch up with them in New Zealand some time. However, as it turned out I managed to play detective and found out where they lived …

One afternoon we went into Pommevic and had a beer at the local pub – with the great name of Le Drop. There were four men drinking at the bar, one of whom we later discovered (from Mac) is the owner’s husband. He came and chatted with us – a mix of his broken English and my limited French. It turns out he is a rugby fanatic too (this is ‘rugby country’) and as with Bernard was excited to learn we were from New Zealand, repeatedly shouting ‘All Blacks, All Blacks’ to his friends.

He mentioned Mike Russell so I took the opportunity to ask if he knew who Bernard was. One of his drinking mates was indeed able to tell me Bernard’s surname and the street where he and his wife live– no number but at least we had a lot more information. So the next day when we cycled into Valence d’Agen we decided to try and find them. In France people often have their names on their doors and I managed to find a house with Bernard’s surname on it. We rang the bell and a woman answered – no Bernard didn’t live there, he is her husband’s uncle but she walked down the street a few houses to show us where Bernard lived. Unfortunately she advised he had just left for a holiday so I stuffed our ‘business card’ and one of my lavender sachet dolls into a plastic bag and through his letterbox. It will be interesting to see if we hear from them.

But back to Le Drop: we enjoyed our beers – it was a fun atmosphere and we were made to feel very welcome – including by a local cat that sauntered up to us, had a turn sitting on my and then Dave’s lap before sauntering off again – as cats do!

Bike rides

Dave did two very long bike rides while we were moored at Pommevic, one to the north and one to the south. I opted out of these as the heat was still getting to me a bit and I am still not sure how far I can go before my battery runs out (given we didn’t use them for so long). I’ll therefore leave Dave to offer a snapshot of these two jaunts. 

He suggests you check out a map to follow the route he took. The first ride was 62 kilometres and he went through Gourdourville, Saint Vincent -Lespinasse, Montesquieu, Saint- Thecle, Esmes, Castelgrat, and Saint Clair.

The second ride was a bit longer, 75 kilometres, which took him through Espalais, Auvillar, Bardigues Mansonville, Castera Bouzet and back through St Michel, Merles,St Nicolas-de-la Grave and Malause. He ran out of power on his bike a kilometre from the boat.

He also disappeared one evening out when he went to look at the nuclear power station and then on to Donzac, Lamagistere, Clemont Soubiran 

While he was away one day I did a shorter ride into Valence d’Agen to the weekly market. It was not very big, but still interesting, including a bread slicing machine set up for people to use.

I had a coffee at a café next to the market. When the waiter discovered I was from New Zealand, he got animated and started gabbling on about the All Blacks. After my coffee I went to the supermarket for a few things. Cycling back I stopped at an interesting concrete seat we have passed several times.

We also did a few shorter trips together. The first was a 25 kilometre return trip down the canal towpath, in search of our next mooring spot. It was an easy and pleasant ride as the towpath is well formed, sealed and in the shade of trees. Although we’ve been along the same path in 2019 it was interesting refreshing our memory of the villages etc ahead of us. I was too busy trying to keep up with Dave to take any photos.

Another day we did a 30 kilometre return trip, first south of Pommevic to look at dovecotes and then north to visit the Gourdouville château. Setting out on our quest to see dovecotes (mentioned above) we cycled firstly over La centrale nucléaire de Golfech.

Once we turned off from the bridge, the roads were very quiet (and narrow). It was nice cycling by orchards and grain fields.

We also cycled past a small airport for microlight aircraft (ULM / l’Ultra Léger Motorisé) nearby. We had seen and heard lots of microlights flying over us when we were moored at Pommevic. Apparently there is one that has its tail wings at the front, but we didn’t see that one.

We then cycled back over the two canals and up to the Gourdouville château perched high on a hill. Unfortunately the château is privately owned and was not open to the public. 

We therefore cycled down into the pretty village below, before carrying on to Valence d’Agen for lunch and a spot of supermarket shopping. 

Perhaps the most adventurous bike ride we did together recently was a 30 kilometre return trip to a local vineyard Mac (the Scots man at Pommevic) had recommended to us, Domaine de Thermes. This is a small family run vineyard that is in the Brulhois AOC. All wines are made following tradition handmade methods (Mac told us the owner’s arms are stained  permanently red from stirring the wine). Recently the vineyard gained a Haute Valeur Environnementale (HVE) Certificate, based on their commitment to environmental-friendly practices.

The first part of the ride was along a fairly busy road. There was quite a bit of traffic, including trucks but the French are typically very tolerant of cyclists so I felt quite safe. All along the road was bordered by acres and acres of sunflowers and grain crops, all now getting past their ‘best before’ date, but still very attractive.

Once we turned off the busy road we started a steady climb up a quiet, but winding road, bordered by trees. Our eBikes handled it easily and soon we saw vineyards – a sure sign we were getting close to our destination.

On arrival at the vineyard we were met by a huge dog that was barking at us. Dave calmed it by putting out his hand for the dog to sniff. It was a lovely setting with the rows of grapevines, stone buildings and old wine press under a big tree.

We then went into the shop and did some wine tasting. Much to the surprise of the woman serving us we ended up buying 12 bottles of white wine (a dry and a sweeter one), three bottles of red wine (including one that is made especially for a restaurant in Paris) and a 10 litre ‘château de cardboard’ of the rosé we had tasted. It is the same wine that is bottled but of slightly poorer quality than if bottled. The owner came into the shop as we were paying and gave us the remainder of the bottle of rosé (about two thirds still full) to take with us. The shop assistant and owner watched in bemusement as Dave loaded up our bike (I think they may have dismissed us at first as not being potential buyers when we turned up on our bikes – little did they know how much we could carry on them!)

I must admit having a carton of six bottles of wine in each pannier made the bike feel a bit unstable but I also knew the rest of our journey was either on the flat or down hill.

The vineyard is only a few kilometres away from Auvillar (mentioned above), so we cycled to it. I had packed the wherewithal for a picnic lunch, the only thing that was missing was the baguette, which we bought on arrival at Auvillar. We made our way through the centre of the village to the lookout area where we had lunch under the shade on a big tree. The rosé the vineyard owner had given us was still cold so we enjoyed that before Dave boiled up the billy for a cup of tea.

At one stage a group of nuns sat down at a nearby table and sang grace before enjoying their lunch. They must get incredibly hot having to wear those burkahs (sorry habits) in this weather.

After lunch I went to look at the exhibition I mentioned above, while Dave took a stroll through the village (he had been to the exhibition on one of his long solo rides). We then headed back to the boat. The first stage of this was downhill and over a suspension bridge (typical of the those built towards the end of the 19th century and which we could see from the lookout). The rest of the way was on the flat through quiet rural roads, finishing with a short ride along the towpath. It had been a fun ride and we are certainly well stocked up on wine now!

On one of our trips to the supermarket we were amused to see a tiny eCar. In France you do not need a license to drive small cars like this – a bit of a worry given we saw an elderly gentleman get into it and speed off!

Eating out

We’ve only had a couple of lunches at restaurants. One was in Valence d’Agen when we had been on our bike ride to find dovecots and the Gournville château. We went to Valence d’Agen to go to the supermarket but noticed that the Italian Village that had been at Castelsarrasin was set up behind the church. It was set up quite differently with different people. Nevertheless the pizza we shared was of the same yummy standard.

As part of another bike outing, we had lunch at Valence d’Agen in the main square. Dave had the set lunch menu (starter and main course) for €12.50 and I had a delicious tomato salad.

It was a bit disconcerting to see a man at the table next to us ‘wearing’ a gun. Ditto for the Gendarmes on duty at Tour de France. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to seeing armed police etc.

After having gone into the Mairie at Golfech to pay for our mooring (which was an interesting experience in itself with another local excited to meet New Zealanders), we enjoyed beers at a local bar. It was right next to a busy main road so we were interested to see all the traffic going by , including a transit van towing a caravan, which appealed to Dave.

Golfech Nuclear Power Station

Our mooring is quite close to the Golfech nuclear power station. The station has two operating nuclear reactors that are both pressurised water reactors of the French P’4 design. The plant also has two 178.5 metre tall cooling towers that get water from the Garonne River, only using water to compensate for evaporation; the cooling loop is closed and water is never released back into the river. The plant produces nearly half of the electricity used in this area and employs nearly 700 full-time workers.

Not unexpectedly, there was a lot of controversy around the building of the plant. The building of a nuclear power plant, with four reactors, was initially proposed way back in 1965 but construction, with only two reactors, did not begin until 1982. The station was commissioned on 1 February 1991. Each reactor is closed for six months every 10 years for maintenance. Golfech’s Number One reactor was closed this year in February, and was due to reopen in September. However, a corrosion problem on the auxiliary circuit piping resulting in small cracks, was discovered, and the plant will not now be reconnected with the reactor until February 2023. That is why we can only see steam coming out of one cooling tower.

Currently the hot weather and resulting warm temperatures in the Garonne River have also meant there have been production restrictions at the Golfech nuclear plant. Under France’s rules, EDF (Électricité de France – a French multinational electric utility company, largely owned by the French state) plants must reduce or halt nuclear output when river temperatures reach certain thresholds to ensure that the water used to cool the plants won’t harm the environment when put back into the waterways. However, at the same time the heatwave is increasing demand for cooling from the many millions of homes, offices and factories hit by soaring temperatures. That’s driving up power demand and risks straining the system even further at a time when many plants are already shut down for annual summer maintenance.

The view of the reactors, and canal, reflecting sunlight as the sun sets are an interesting sight.

On that note I will end this post, as it is getting a bit long. We have booked to stay a few more days here at Golfech and plan to do a few bike rides to the neighbouring villages which I will talk about in my next blog. In the meantime we trust you all stay safe and well.

4 Comments

  1. Fascinating countryside! Are the buildings at Auvillar (and other villages) occupied by tenants? I ask as I wonder where the cars are parked or is the public transport system so geared up that cars are not required – or are cycles the main means of transport. It would appear one does not need a car to transport supplies – just pannier bags on an e-bike!! 😉 No vandalism or graffiti either – perhaps the sight of gendarmes being armed is a deterrent?! We feel like we are doing the journey with you!
    Keep well, travel safe. Cheers Helen

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    1. Great to hear from you. To answer your question, yes the building are tenanted. There are some areas in all villages where parking is not allowed but often buildings have garages and street parking nearby. I think people would typically walk to a market (as the villages are very small) and if they do own a car it is likely to be quite small. You see hardly any SUVs, Utes or even what we would think of as medium sized cars, especially in the villages. In the bigger cities public transport is usually very good. Typically villages are kept very tidy and we only see graffiti occasionally on empty buildings outside of cities/villages.

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  2. What a beautiful story. always a little travel through the beautiful authentic French villages. Always look forward to reading more and enjoy the nice photos.
    This could be a travel guide for other boaters to explore the French rivers and daily life. Congratulations for your writing style.

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