From Berry au Bac we headed north up the Canal des Ardennes about which we have heard much over the years. Well, we survived the ‘ladder’ of locks -26 in 8.5km – up to the summit level of the Canal des Ardennes, and all in just under four and a half hours + an hour’s break for much-needed and welcome lunch after the first 12! We were lucky with the weather, which though cloudy, chilly enough and grey to begin with, held dry, and turned into a very pleasant evening. We had company throughout in the shape of a hire craft, the first we’ve come across, capably managed by a young French couple with two small children. It was their first time hiring a boat, and they had come down the ladder the previous day in the rain! They still thought boating good fun, so we reckon that they’re hooked, though they did agree that 26 locks in such a short distance is, perhaps, a bit much and certainly twice over in both directions!
However, it is a beautiful canal, with lots of trees and little rounded hills rising either side of us, an abundance of wildflowers all around, many familiar to us, others not. I hopped off at one lock where they were particularly prolific, and quickly gathered a few specimens for later identification. There are some attractive houses, squat and solid looking churches, both roman and gothic in style, and all in the yellow stone local to the area which can look warm & lovely, and then again give a more dilapidated appearance than perhaps is the case. A very rural feel. It is not much frequented by commercial craft, not busy with pleasure boats either, and some of the locks are in a poor state of repair. The climb is rapid, but the lift in each lock averages around 3 metres, and it’s all automated, with poles overhanging the canal which are given a twist to set the lock and open the gates, and another pole in the lock which is lifted to close gates, fill or empty the chamber, and let the boats out again. It is overseen by a couple of lock-keepers who buzz up and down the tow path to check and sometimes override the system, should there be a hitch, or commercial craft coming, as they of course have priority. Many of the locks houses are empty and derelict, but some are occupied, not always by lock-keepers, but with wonderful ‘potagers’ with all sorts of fruit and vegetables, and here and there some surplus being offered for sale. Sadly, we didn’t have time to stop and investigate further as we had to ‘go with the flow’ as it were, the two boats moving up together.