From Mons to the Blaton-Ath Canal

As mentioned in the last blog, there were two other Aussie boats moored at the Grand Large when we returned to Mons. Austin knocked on the hull of The Downunder and he almost made some unexpected money when Gordon called out:

“Just a moment! I am getting my wallet!” He was thinking the harbourmaster had seen him arrive and had come to collect mooring fees. Fortunately Gordon realised just in time that the outstretched hand reaching over the railing belonged to Austin! Gordon and Anne, who we met last year in Friesland, still had the good grace to invite us over for coffee and pastry the next morning. Karen and Peter, from the other Aussie boat, were also part of the coffee round. We had the chance to see their beautiful new piper barge in the evening when having drinks on their “ Joie de Vivre”. We had a wonderful night with Karen, Peter and their sailing friend Dori, just slightly tainted by a bout of jealousy on my behalf of their perfect barge with everything what a woman’s (and a man’s) heart can desire.

We waved them good bye the next morning while we stayed on for another day sorting out a few things and returning our hire car.

Full of enthusiasm we went off the next day towards the Blaton-Ath Canal which connects the Blaton-Péronnes Canal with the river Dender.

We reached the beginning of the canal by early afternoon and booked in with the water authority to climb the first stretch of 10 locks the next morning. Unsure where to moor for the night we decided to check out the first lock and possibly tie up nearby.

And here we found out that the luck bringing monkey whose head we stroked in Mons is just a myth! There was no spot where we could moor, and while turning around we got hopelessly stuck in the mud - black stinking, silty, oily mud! The propeller didn’t budge at all and the motor was heating up from our attempt to free it. So “never give up and grit your teeth” Austin eased himself into the murky water with the end of three 15 metre ropes tied together to swim to the far side of the canal. He then, with Hercules like grit pulled our 14 tonnes boat out off the bog and back into the middle of the canal. He emerged victorious but looked like 'the monster from the black lagoon' with slick and odd plant life hanging off him. This was then evenly dispersed throughout the boat as the real work began! 

The motor released only little puffs of smoke instead of water and so the blockage had to be cleared. Luckily we made it to a mooring spot just across from the Bl…. -Ath Canal, and managed to clean out the filters and inlet hose with help of our deck pump. Without getting too technical and embarrassing myself by getting it totally wrong, the impeller proved to be still intact, and eventually the motor started pumping water again! Hallelujah!

The next morning we were followed into the locks ,14 all together - 10 going up, 4 down, by an English boat and crew. The day ended with a lively, even noisy (some might have thought?) get- together at a lovely mooring at Ladeuze. Hugh, Rosemary and Ed from The Blue Steel were great company, and there was no danger of the conversation turning serious!

In the morning, they were up bright and early waiting for the second team of itinerant lock keepers to get them through the next 7 odd locks while we decided to stay put and cycle to the nearby Castle of Beloil.

Since the 15th century the castle is the home of the Ligne family with the princes of Ligne still residing in one of the wings today. The castle is richly furnished and it’s walls hung with portraits of the Ligne family and past European royalty, including Napoleon and the unlucky Charles I of England. It also contains an impressive collection of 17th century chinese vases and a library with 20,000 books from the 14th to the 19th century. The 25 hectares gardens with its ponds and outdoor sculptures also include 10kms of tall hedges, and Thomas, if you ever feel overwhelmed by cutting yours, a total clipping surface of 55,000 square meters!

According to the forecast the next 4-5 days are going to be extremely hot with temperatures peaking at 40 degrees Celsius on Thursday. Our plan is to make the small journey to Ath and then take it easy for a few days, feet in an ice bucket etc.... We’ll see!

© Austin Robinson 2019