We waited 10 days in Le Chesne for lock 42 to reopen, during which time we decided we weren't too sure about keeping the boat in Holland for the winter, and we didn't really want to hang about for another week. And so it was that we followed in the wake of so many other boats, and left Le Chesne the way we came (literally, as we couldn't turn in the narrow canal). Our period of rest had given us chance to look more carefully at the charts for northern France and we had a choice of a 450 km (100 lock) trip to Calais via the Canal St Quentin, or the slightly quicker 400km (80 lock) route via the Canal du Nord, generally regarded as being less desirable on account of the busy barge traffic and unattractive scenery. A third alternative could see us emerge in the English channel at St Valery sur Somme, but the Canal de la Somme, although charted at 1.8m depth, is often reported anecdotely to have much less.
All these options began with retracing our route along the Canal des Ardennes, starting with the chain of 26 automated locks. With our now tried and tested rope-free technique we completed the flight in four hours arriving neatly at the only manned lock on the canal (number 27) during their lunch hour. Many of the locks have a fixed bridge on the downstream side, and whether it was high rainfall or just a generous stocking up of the lock pounds, we found the bridges even lower than on the way up, with the top sprung section of our height gauge actually scraping the underside of one bridge. This left us with barely an inch clear above the windscreen (3.4m), although we could still have lowered the windscreen as a last resort if needed.
A full day's cruising brought us to the Port de Plaisance at Rethel, one of the few serviced moorings on this stretch of the canal. Although there were several boats moored up, we were surprised to find two electricity sockets still available, although when we tripped it later that evening it proved to be slightly less of a find.
Rethel's claim to fame is as the home of 'boudin blanc' - normally translated as white pudding. Unlike its distant cousin the black pudding, 'boudin blanc' is made with nothing more sinister than pork meat, milk and egg, and looks like an albino sausage. The mild taste and uniform texture make for easy eating and we marked the first day of our homeward journey with a dish of 'boudin blanc ardennais'.