These are the adventures of Andy and Sally Rawnsley on their narrowboat "The Puzzler". We have been living on the boat for over nine years now and are still loving it. Our Ulster born Shih Tzu, Shannon, has grown up, and has taken over the boat! After three wonderful years in Ireland, we transported The Puzzler to The Netherlands, and spent a year there. In 2015 we went southwards, to reach the north of France by June. After glorious weather throughout the summer, we arrived in Roanne in late October, and enjoyed our winter in this friendly port. We cruised extensively in France in 2016, 2017 and 2018, returning to Roanne each winter.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

19th - 22nd June 2015. Past Mont de Reims and vineyards for champagne by Verzenay. On to Châlons-en-Champagne.

The chalk hill of Mont de Reims lies over to our right, with champagne vineyards to the left of the village of Verzenay. The chalk is perfect for the grapes for making champagne.
We continue steadily up the locks to reach Billy Tunnel. A barge was just leaving the tunnel so, as the lights went green, we hoped for a quick passage. However, only one barge was allowed through our way before the red light, so we had to wait about an hour before we were given permission to go.

The tunnel has lights all the way through, with a narrow towing track, where the train used to run. As the tunnel is 2302 metres, or 1.43 miles long, it was good to see sunshine at the far end.
We were delayed again at a lock, while we waited for the barge, Opa Sigi, to squeeze through, then pass The Puzzler. The lock size here is 38.5 metres by 5.05 metres and Opa Sigi is 39 metres by 5.05 so it is a very tight fit for him.

Having gone down 8 locks, we reached the village of Condé sur Marne, where the original towing train was by the last lock.

The covered market can be seen in the centre of Condé sur Marne and gives the village real character.

On Saturday we moved on to Châlons-en-Champagne, which is a lovely town, with two cathedrals. We visited St. Étienne Cathedral first.

The stained glass windows are most impressive, using this green colour which, we were told, is special to this cathedral.

We saw several timbered houses in the town.

Next it was on to the second cathedral, Notre-Dame-en-Vaux.

Both cathedrals were quite light inside, due to all the glass, which has been used wherever possible, either as stained glass, or as plain leaded windows.

On Sunday we sailed as far as Soulanges, where the village church was quite a contrast to the cathedrals. All these village churches are locked, which is a shame.

We continued on through Vitry-le-François, which is a centre for the restoration of old barges. This one is just having new portholes cut, so has a long way to go.

Just past Vitry we joined the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne. The banks of the canal are lined with many different varieties of trees, and remind us of being in an arbotetum. No labels to identify them all though!

Saturday, 20 June 2015

13th - 18th June. On the canal des Ardennes to Rethel, and on to Reims.

The canal des Ardennes continues peacefully between the trees. Thankfully it is a little cooler today.

Our next stop is at Rethel, which is a bigger town. There are five English boats here tonight!

A contrast in mooring the next night, below lock 12. Barge Tonga arrived after us, dwarfing The Puzzler.

He left before us in the morning, to go up the lock, and he completely fills it.

Yet another big fellow coming along. We had not expected as many working boats on this canal.

We had a visitor today, who was not at all frightened.

The countryside is much more open beside the canal as we look across the fields of corn towards Cormicy. It is a good harvest this year.

We liked this lock cottage at Guadart. Sadly several of these attractive cottages are now uninhabited.

In Reims it is the ladder to the top window that is of interest. There is a platform mounted on it for furniture to be lowered to the waiting van below.

Sally paused for a rest by the fountain, in the middle of Reims.

Obviously Reims Cathedral is the major point of interest in the city, although we saw no jackdaws! Sadly the front facade is partly covered as renovation is under way.

Inside, the cathedral was lovely, if rather dark. There is a great deal of traditional stained glass but this is a modern window by Imi Knoebel, a German artist.

Outside, the cathedral is covered with superb carvings and statues. This is the north door, with Andy showing the scale of it.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

8th - 12th June. From the River Meuse, past the town of Charleville- Mezieres, on to the Canal des Ardennes.

This viewpoint overlooks Joigny sur Meuse, with The Puzzler moored on the left side. We followed a 15km marked walk up from Joigny to this view, then on through the forest, returning to the river Meuse at the next lock. We must be getting fitter!

Moving on to Charleville- Mezieres, we found a picturesque town square there, in this large town.

On leaving the town, the countryside opens out more, and there are so many hay bales in the fields.

We have left the Meuse now, to join the Canal Des Ardennes. The canal locks are much smaller than the river locks were.

The canal des Ardennes is much more like an English canal, and we are in the middle of a heatwave. We are even sailing with the brolly up at the front.
Having spent the night at le Chesne, we spent Saturday first going down a flight of 26 locks. On leaving each lock we can see the next one ahead of us, all ready for The Puzzler.

Once in the lock, a tug on the upright blue pole will shut the gates and activate the lock. The whole flight only took four and a half hours.
Having handed our remote control box back to the lockkeeper at lock 26, there are two more locks before Arrigny. These locks are now activated by twisting the coloured pole, which hangs in midstream.
Arrigny is a delightful mooring, sheltered by the trees. Shannon, our shih-Tzu, has turned over a new leaf today, and comes EVERY time that she is called, instead of playing "Come and catch me!"

Dom de Charlemagne church, also on a signpost as Church of Notre Dame, is a Gothic church which was built in the 15th Century in Arrigny.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

1st - 7th June 2015 Enfin La France!

Before leaving Dinant, we went for a walk/climb up behind the town.
This road led us up in front of the cliffs until we were as high as the citadel, where we turned off along a track through the woods, which led us even higher to a small hamlet, lying amid green pastures, above the tree line.
Further exploration led us back into the woods, but we missed the turning down to Dinant, and found ourselves on a path which led to the edge of a cliff! Fortunately, we met two dog walkers, who pointed us in the right direction for an extremely steep, but safe, path back through the woods. The gully on the right, behind this church, marks this path, but it was very well hidden to a casual glance.

The river Meuse continues to climb slowly through fantastic scenery, as we go past some cliffs. We are in the Ardennes here.

Both sides of the river are covered with trees with more cliffs amid the greenery.

We both take our turn at the tiller.

Our last mooring in Belgium was at Hermeton.
Having crossed the border into France, we experienced our first French tunnel. This was our first tunnel for four years, and the first ever for Shannon. She was not too sure about it! Just before this tunnel was Trois Fontaines Lock. The light was green as we approached at 11.30am, and there was plenty of room for us to come in alongside another boat, but the lockkeeper shut the gates in our faces. He then came to tell us that it was his lunchtime, so we could wait until 1pm before he would let us through!
We moored at Haybes with several other boats, our busiest mooring so far this year. There is a walking centre on the edge of town, and we followed a marked walk up through the woods for six kilometres, climbing nearly 200 metres to look down on Fumay. Fumay is the next town on the Meuse, and is built within one meander of the river.

The next day we cruised around Fumay, and could see our lookout point high among the trees. See the red arrow.
We now operate these locks with a handheld device. Usually it works well, but we had to wait half an hour for someone to come and let us all out of this lock, due to a power failure.
Our next stop was at Laifour. When we arrived the mooring was full, but Iede invited us alongside Onrust, and we spent a couple of happy days there, with him and Jeannette. Onrust is nearly twice as long as The Puzzler, and over twice as wide, so the harbour master only charged us the very small boat rate, which was nice!

Laifour is a pleasant, unassuming village.