Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Catching Up

Now back on Waiouru and obviously some catching up to be done.  Whilst I’ve been away Linda and Richard on nb Mary-H passed along with John & Diana on nb Molly Rose.  

Observation.  Linda I tried to add your blog address to our blog list but Blogger advises there is a problem with your url and it won’t update!





We stopped at Hillmorton to fill the water tank (one hour) and then went up through the three locks finding a well known boat moored above them.

P1030184Only time for a very brief conversation with Kev and I did point out their old boat Forevermore was moored two boats in front!

We stopped in Braunston for lunch and I also purchased more paint and a fender from the swindlers before we headed to Wigrams Turn passing nb Festina Lente.  The moorings at Flecknoe seemed to be very popular.  But then it was a Bank Holiday.

There were two boats ahead of us at Calcutt top lock and we appeared to be on our own.  Then a boat appeared from behind…… We were in luck….. except it was a returning Calcutt hire boat and only going through the top lock to return.  Oh well….. can’t win them all!  But as we were about to go through the second lock another boat appeared at the top lock, so we waited.  They were most grateful, but they were returning to their mooring in Calcutt marina so we only had a lock partner for locks 2 & 3. 

We finished the day just beyond the Two Boats pub at Long Itchington.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

A surprise and a climb

Final day and I spent the morning driving around in the countryside.  By now I’d discovered the Belgium's produce a rather nice range of beers.  None of this warm and flat English muck (puts steel helmet on head and crouches in the bottom of the trench awaiting incoming fire).  Some of the best beers were brewed in the nearby Abbeys and whilst I couldn’t drink and drive, I could at least look.  The first Abbey was Chimay and the monks obviously have produced a popular range of beers over the centuries as they had a very nice looking visitor centre.


You can only watch others enjoying their beer for so long before you have to move on.  I went looking for the nearby Abbey which involved (for me) a walk through the adjacent forest.


It’s actually Scourmont Abbey located near Chimay, although the beer is labelled Chimay.  One locals in Charleroi had previously informed me that the monks produced beer because it was safer to drink than the water.  It sounded like a great marketing strategy!  The monks also produced cheese and I did wonder if this was part of the Belgium beer consuming culture as each time I ordered a beer it came with a small dish of cheese.  

IMG_0503IMG_0504IMG_0505 Whilst it was possible to walk in the Abbey grounds there was no access to the brewery.   However the smell of hops in the air suggested they did indeed brew on the premises!

The second brewery was at Rochefort Abbey.  These guys are serious about their spiritual life (and beer).  Gaining entry proved to be too difficult.  There was a long suspended handle attached to a large bell beside the door but I decided against ringing it.  You can see the bell in the following photo.


This small stone statue was in a niche high on the wall. I have no idea why the man and child are struggling over possession of the hammer?


The Abbey brewery has been the main source of income since the 16th century.  In 2010 there was a large fire which destroyed much of the Abbey.  Fortunately it didn’t touch the brewery…… or was this divine intervention! Smile

The final visit for the day involved climbing a hill.  I’ve always wanted to visit the site of the 1815 Battle of Waterloo.  This is where Napoleon was defeated for the last time and sent off into exile in the southern Atlantic.  The Lion Mound was constructed after the battle on at the direction of the King of the Netherlands.  His son had fought at the battle commanding the 1st Division.


You can read about the battle here.

This is the view to the east and was the Duke of Wellington’s left flank.  To the right in the photo below would have been a small group of farm buildings which were occupied by the British as a strongpoint.  The buildings have now gone.  You can see the slight ridgeline running east to west. 

IMG_0558   This next photo is taken from the middle of the English line and faces south.  Napoleon’s forces occupied the ridge in the distance and there was a very shallow valley between the two parallel ridgelines.  The contours of the land have changed slightly as a result of farming, erosion and the earth removed to construct the Lion Mound.  In the middle of the photo there would have been the farm buildings of La Haysainte which formed the second of Wellington’s strongpoints


This next photo shows the ground in front of Wellington’s right flank (view to the southwest) In the middle of the photo you can see the buildings that form Hougoumont Farm.  This was the third strongpoint occupied by the allies.


Napoleon had already defeated the Prussians in an earlier battle and sent a third of his force to pursue them and keep them from joining Wellington.  Meanwhile Wellington had chosen this ridgeline as his main defensive position.  He did so because the previous year he had reconnoitred the area and knew the terrain.  It’s a good defensive position.  The three farms provide strongpoints that break up any frontal attack whilst providing the defenders with some protection.  Napoleon’s artillery was mostly cannons rather than howitzers and they fire balls in a flat trajectory.  The ridgeline Wellington’s forces occupied enabled him to keep much of his force on the reverse side of the hill out of Napoleon’s direct artillery fire.

The Prussian commander, Blücher had agreed to come and support Wellington and he managed to slip away from the pursing French and join Wellington at a critical point towards the end of the battle.  Conventional military wisdom states an attacker needs to outnumber the defender by 3 to 1.  Napoleon did outnumber Wellington, but not by those odds.  Napoleon might have won if he had commenced the battle earlier, but the weather was against him so he was late. 

At the base of the Lion Mound is a round building constructed in 1912 which contains a circular painted diorama of the battle.  To the left of the building is what appears to be an empty swimming pool.  It’s actually part of a huge underground visitor centre.




Monday, 29 August 2016

The forts

Today I decided to take the car south and find some different countryside.  I was getting tired of motorways and changed the gps setting to ’fastest route’ in the hope it would take me via some quiet rural roads.  Well that worked and I found myself going through small Belgium villages and narrow lanes. 


Eventually I reached more hilly terrain covered in forest.  Apparently I must have crossed the border into France as I came upon a small French town within a star fort.  I had no idea of the name of the village. However after a considerable amount of internet searching I’ve now identified it as Rocroi.  I even managed to nick an aerial photo from here

star fort

Back in the 14th Century what is now Belgium and Holland belonged to Spain. In 1552 the Holy Roman Emperor ordered a fort be built on his side (Belgium side) of the border.  King Henry II of France then ordered the construction of a fort southwest at Rocroi.  During this period the principle infantry formation was a square of men armed with pikes.  The arrowhead shape of the star fort broke up the continuity of and attacking square.  As artillery became more powerful and accurate fortification were constructed from earth which was better at absorbing the energy from incoming cannon balls.


Buildings inside the fort have obviously changed over the centuries.  This next photo appears to be of some type of former local government building on one side of the main square.

IMG_0507IMG_0508Nothing particularly unusual about the church on the opposite side of the square,although the covered market looked interesting.


Walking the perimeter of the fort was hot work so I treated myself to a cold drink at the Hotel du Commerce


Time to go back to Belgium…. 

More rural roads found me in Namur which the the provincial capital of southern Belgium. The city is strategically positioned at the confluence of the rivers Sambre and Meuse where it dominates the east-west and the north-south routes through the Ardennes.   As usual, I was looking for some high ground and noticed the fort towering over the city.  OK, it was a hot day but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to walk up one of the approaches to the fort.


The fort

As I was crossing the bridge I noticed the half turret building on the northern bank.


The current fort is actually Namur Citadel. I was very hot and sweaty by the time I reached the summit and once there it became very apparent the citadel had been constructed in a compartmentalized design with layered defensive positions.


The citadel was expanded and strengthened over the centuries but after the Franco-Prussian war in the 1870’s it was disestablished.  Belgium had declared itself neutral and realised that neutrality needed to be protected.  Being a strategic location Namur was strengthened by the construction of a ring of forts just outside artillery range of the city.  Despite all this work (and expense) the ring of forts and citadel fell very quickly to the invading Germans in both world wars.  There are good views of the surrounding area from the citadel.


Back down in the city and very hot I went looking for something to drink along with a look at the local architecture.


Two cokes and a large bottle of water later I was on my way back to my hotel in Charlerio.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Canal boat lift and inclined plane

After realising the ‘drain’ outside my hotel window was the Charleroi Canal I decided to do further research discovering the canal has an inclined plane and the highest boat lift in the world.  This warranted some further exploring, so I entered the coordinates into the gps and set off to visit both locations.

The inclined plane is at Ronquières and is huge.  Unlike the Foxton Inclined Plane which raised boats parallel to the plane, the Ronquières cassions are at right angles to the plane. 

The plane was constructed in 1968 as part of an upgrade to the canal.  It replaced 14 locks and raises boats  222 ft.   It is 4698 ft long and the two 299 ft long cassions operate independently with a 5200 ton counterweight runs in a trough below the rails that carries the cassion. It takes approximately 22 minutes for a cassion to travel the length of the inclined plane.


Approach to the inclined plane


Bottom of the inclined plane.  The size of the gantry structure is obviously due to the size and weight of the guillotine gates.



I arrived too late and just missed seeing the right cassion convey a large barge up the plane. 


Unlike the Foxton cassions, these have a ‘wedge’ shape with the base parallel to the incline and the top horizontal.    There are a hell of a lot of rail wheels under the cassion.


The top of the inclined plane is similar to the bottom except for the very high central tower which seems somewhat extravagant!

Back to the car and a 20 minute drive to the Strépy-Thieu boat lift.  This is another impressive engineering structure.  The lift raises boats 240 ft using two independent cassions.  until January 2016 it was the highest boat lift in the world.


Completed in 2002 at a reputed cost of € 160 million, it replaces four smaller boat lifts and two locks.  The cassions measure 112 x 12 metres and when full weigh between 7200 and 8400 tonnes.  The variation in weight is due to variations in canal water level.


Large concrete blocks form the counter-weight.  Electric motors raise the cassions using 112 steel suspension cables and 32 control cables.


It takes approximately seven minutes to raise or lower a cassion.  Well that’s my canal ‘fix’ for the day!