cycling the canal

9th september 2016

as he always does, lou brought me a cup of tea in bed and remembered to wish me a happy anniversary. true to form i whipped out an anniversary card that had been hidden under my mattress. after 49 years, not much has changed!

today was cycling day but as the hire shop didn’t open until ten o’clock it was a lazy start, my only ones on holiday!  when we left lou headed off to the presse to buy a map he was sure he had seen there (he hadn’t) while i sauntered to the boulangerie for some sarnies.  the cycle shop was open when i arrived but no one was about.  i made a bit of deliberate noise sorting my sarnie into my backpack but still no one.  a bit cross now, i went over to the little box affair that serves as an office and found the owner sitting at his computer. ‘oh, nobody about’, he said.  well, no!   he yelled and the indifferent lady from the other day came out of the back. lou appeared and we sorted out the bikes.  well, our lady did.  no basket? i enquired, no, none left, she said.  inwardly i asked myself what was the point of obeying their 48 hours advance booking and specifically asking for a basket?   but no matter. she attached a pair of panniers on the back and told me they were better.   a matter of opinion….


the canal towpath is closed for work between capestang and poilhes so our lady suggested the back road to poilhes where we could pick up the towpath again. shame we hadn’t got a map but tant pis.  the road was quiet and wound through the vineyards where some machines were working.  i pulled up by one that had broken down.  well, i guessed it had from the ‘putain’ and ‘merde’ that were being thrown about.  i askd the guy if they worked at night as well.  ‘tout la nuit’ he gaily shouted back.  ‘too hot by day so we work all night’.  note to self, next holiday in capestang will not be during the vendange!


the entrance to poilhes is through an avenue of plane trees. these avenues are  synonomous with most peoples’ idea of southern france and i am always trying to take the definitive photo of one….and generally failing.  but here goes.


in poilhes we fancied a coffee but only found the two restaurants we remembered from our visit six years ago.  meanwhile a trio of french people had caught up with us, one lady merrily complaining about the heat and flies already.   lou noticed the solitary male had an electric bike and decided it was a very good idea. our paths were to cross again during the day.


we found the canal path outside poilhes and i sped along happily.  the odd rubbing noise carried on somewhere in the region of the back wheel but i had fiddled with the panniers and decided that was not the problem.  the canal banks looked naked without the plane trees and the row of stumps a cruel reminder on the splendour that had been.  we were under the impression that the whole tree had to come out before the ‘malady’ could be eradicated so were a bit ‘stumped’ as to why they were still there…sorry, couldn’t resist.


we passed fellow cyclists going in the other direction. i either wobbled scarily, (we were the canal side) or came to a halt. soon we came to one of the picturesque bridges over the canal which seem to lead to a private home, quite a substantial one at that. i took the obligatory photo from the apex and a boat obligingly chugged into shot.  by now i noticed my bike was quite heavy to peddle at times but decided my initial enthusiam may be waning in the heat as well as energy levels.  lou had remarked that i had zoomed off and left him!


a little further on and we were treated to the sight of a large boat turning around in midstream.  coming closer we realised it was a pleasure boat that cruises out of beziers.  having effected the passing of the malpas tunnel now was the time for it to turn back.  the tunnel was shorter than i expected and we couldn’t cycle through it although it could be tried on foot.   on the hill above us was the opidum d’eserune but far too hot to trudge up to survey the roman ruins.  whizzing down the slope above the tunnel i discvered i had extremely squeaky brakes.


we had changed sides of the canal and now we had the blessed shade of some remaining plane trees.  a proper, precious vista of trees shading the canal opened up before us.  the sunlight dappled the water and it was cooler at last.



around the next bend and we found we were arriving at colombiers.  the pleasure boat was mooring up for lunch. a boatman was using an enormous sledgehammer to knock in a post and delicious smells of lunch were in the air.  i felt sorry for anyone who had only booked the trip and not the lunch!


in colombiers it was back across the canal to find a bar for cold drinks.  i noticed a ‘baignade interdit’ sign and wondered who in their right minds would take a dip in the murky green water however hot they were!   at colombiers there is a large harbour or ‘port de plaisance’ with small shops and a couple of restaurants plus a shower and toilets, all with a view of a leafy island reached by a metal bridge.  we ordered cold drinks from a pizza joint and enjoyed the rest.  it was now a nuisance not having a map as we couldn’t work out how far to beziers and the possibility of seeing the celebrated fonserane locks, all seven of them. i had read that it was not possible to visit them from the besiers side on foot as, again, work was being done.




mine (grrrrr)

crossing back over the canal we ate our sandwiches in a shady corner of the bouledrome and watched the antics of some sheep, horses and people in a field we could see.   moving on, it soon became clear that my bike had some severe problem.  i might have been tired but even lou found it hard to pedal.  we had identified (wrongly) that there was a dynamo on the back wheel and decided this was the problem and the source of the whining noise that came and went.  the sun was getting hotter and with no idea how much farther on the next possible cold drink stop might be the decision was made to turn back and pedal slowly for capestang.  another deciding factor was the complete absence of shade.  we have such happy memories of walking along the canal in shade, so sad we will never see that shade again in our lifetime, however fastgrowing the new,resistant plane trees are.


at the malpas tunnel i sneaked along the bank to get a better idea of the tunnel.  a boat was attempting to turn, not a pleasure cruiser, and the crew on a nearby moored boat were yelling warnings and then instructions!  i don’t know what the problem was as the tunnel is high and seemed wide enough.


up top i insisted that i needed to just lie down for a while.  not a good idea as the only shade was under some pine trees so the back of my t-shirt was soon full of spiky pine needles, not so restful after all!   as we pedalled back down to the canal the french trio came whooping down behind us.  well, two of them, they had lost someone and while they waited they told us that cycling on from colombiers was not a good idea, too hot, and they had heard the towpath was closed further along.  they had eaten at colombiers they told us.  lou said after they’d gone that he had noticed them in one of the restaurants, bikes parkd outside.

onwards, onwards to poilhes where we searched in vain for a bar.  another desperate cyclist spotted a water fountain and splashed happily as well as filling his water bottles.  in the absence of an ‘eau potable’ sign i contented myself by sipping tepid water from my ‘useful’ panier.


the remaining short ride to capestang was grim. the bike got heavier and heavier until i was nearly in tears of frustration.  close to the town i gave up and pushed the bloody thing.  and still it whined.  i tried not to!

at the shop we waited while an english couple discussed hiring bikes for their two teenagers. they wanted them from the next day.  sorry, we’re not open, came the reply.  lou and i avoided each other’s eyes.  not open on a saturday in holiday season?   when it was our turn the chap, whom we hadn’t met before, was much chattier than either of the previous staff members and told lou that there wasn’t a dynamo on my bike.  apparently it is a clever bike that has no obvious gears. ‘you freewheel backwards to change the gears’.  i wasn’t told that, i said, trying to keep the ice out of my voice.

back to the campsite by way of the boulangerie where i noticed earlier they had a cold drinks fridge.  bliss, ice cold agrumes….


so, a late siesta on a blanket under the pine trees on our pitch, no spiky needles.   we had booked a lovely restaurant for the evening which we had eaten in last time we were here so knew we were in for a treat.



and it was. ‘la table du vigneron’ has a lovely setting in amongst the old caves. the kitchen is outside in the courtyard with you and you eat under the branches of an enormous plane tree and the stars.  we drank a bottle of the local wine whose vendange had been keeping us awake!






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