After much deliberation we had decided on an unconventional cruise along the Canal de la Somme, in order to reach the coast, rather than the more industrial options emerging at Dunkerque or Calais. This amounted to a cruise of around 330km (80 locks), of which we had managed to complete about a third of the distance, and half the locks, in our first two days cruising. Our target for today was to complete the Canal de l'Oise à l'Aisne, a 48km stretch which forms part of the main north-south route in this part of France. It was built in 1890 and as we passed through the 2.4km Braye-en-Laonnois tunnel at the summit level it was fascinating to think that boats had been passing through the same tunnel for more than a hundred years.
Having made an early start, for us the tunnel represented one of the few longer stretches where we could schedule breakfast, amongst the frequent locks and bridges which competed for our attention. Eating in the dark wasn't a problem, but we hadn't anticipated the difficulty of stopping the stalactites from dripping in your muesli bowl.
There was nowhere convenient to moor at the end of the canal, and although we intended to turn west, we made a short detour in the opposite direction to Chauny, where a boat yard offers good facilities to visiting boats. We had enjoyed another warm and sunny cruise, but just as we arrived at Chauny a stiff breeze started to get up, making mooring at the bow-to pontoons rather tricky. One of the longer ones had been damaged earlier that afternoon by the wash from a passing barge, and in the stronger winds that were forecast we made sure we were well secured.
We had spotted on the Navicarte a waterside fuelling station nearby, but on enquiry learnt that it was only able to serve barges, presumably as it did not stock white diesel. However the capitaine obligingly offered to arrange a delivery from the local garage, at the bargain price of €1,09/litre. With fuelling stations few and far between on the French waterways, and prices often unreasonably high, this was an offer too good to miss, and we happily stocked up with 600 litres.
The next day was the national holiday of Assomption, for which most of the shops, although not the locks, close down. The town had arranged a 'Brocante' to take place next to the harbour, which in Dutch translates as 'Snuffelmarkt' and which some people in Norfolk rather disparagingly would call a 'tut market'. Rather like a car boot sale, without the cars, this is an opportunity for all the locals to clear out the contents of their attic, in the hope that someone else will feel like buying it. Unfortunately, the weather was not kind, and several heavy showers made the event rather a wash out. If there's one thing worse than a pile of tut, it's a pile of wet tut...